Say you're the head of the National Football League. You have the chance to make a long-running and very annoying public relations problem go away without spending a penny. Oh, and you get to do the right thing in the bargain. Wouldn't you do it?
That's the choice current NFL commissioner Roger Goodell now faces. It's up to him to decide just what to do about Michael Vick, the talented but troubled former Atlanta Falcons quarterback who spent 23 months in prison after he was convicted for running a brutal dogfighting ring. Goodell has opened the door for Vick's return, but if he goes through with it -- and if Vick finds a team willing to make room on its roster for a repeat offender of dubious passing accuracy -- you can be sure that controversy will ensue.
At the center of the maelstrom will be People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. For once, the animal-rights group isn't taking a maximalist, storm-the-barricades position. Instead, it's merely asking that the NFL explicitly add cruelty to animals to the list of transgressions prohibited by the league's conduct policy. PETA also wants the league to require players to attend a class on animal cruelty.
This is hardly unreasonable. Vick, after all, wasn't the first NFL player to get busted mistreating dogs, nor was he the last. The league has a legitimate problem with athletes who think it's okay to abuse pit bulls or train them to be vicious. Sure, there might be some logistical problems involved -- who gets to define animal cruelty? Will players have to register their pets with the league? -- but, all in all, it's a fair solution. Let's hope Goodell knows that, or realizes it soon.
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