There is no pressing football reason for Michael Vick to take part in the Eagles' preseason game tonight.
Vick will be tied up in a bankruptcy hearing most of the day. He will not, according to coach Andy Reid, run the offense after Donovan McNabb leaves the game. On top of that, under the terms of Vick's suspension, he almost certainly will be ineligible to play at the beginning of the regular season. Nothing he does tonight will carry over to October, when he's allowed to play again.
So why do it? Why play Vick against the Jacksonville Jaguars?
The NAACP and a few other civil-rights organizations helped provide the real answer last night, telling the Associated Press that they planned a pro-Vick rally and march around Lincoln Financial Field.
The real reason to play Vick tonight is to get his debut as an Eagle out of the way with as little impact on the regular season as possible: first crowd reaction, first chance for protests, next big wave of media coverage. Get it done Aug. 27 and hope the whole situation slips out of everyone's mind for a couple of months.
Oh, and if Vick makes a big play out of the Wildcat formation that gets the fans excited, so much the better.
It must be stated again that this is precisely the sort of extraordinary behavior that should have kept the Eagles from signing Vick in the first place. The argument here was never that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell should have banned Vick for life, only that the Eagles never should have been the team to give him a job. It was a mistake because of their history, because of their harping about the importance of character, and because it created unnecessary controversy that alienated many fans and will continue to distract the team.
It is a delicious bit of irony that the groups planning to show support for Vick tonight are creating exactly the kind of disruption and polarized atmosphere that punishes the Eagles for giving Vick a chance. Nothing like a loud and angry confrontation between those who defend human rights and those who defend animal rights to make the city and its football franchise look good.
Again: The Eagles brought this on themselves. Where they truly went wrong was in bringing it on the rest of us, who would just like to enjoy watching football without our gag reflexes kicking in.
Now we have to endure the folly of a pro-Vick rally. The head of the local NAACP, J. Whyatt Mondesire, already had embarrassed himself and his organization by writing an absurd, racially tinged attack on McNabb in 2005 (the Year of Terrell Owens). So how can this be seen as anything but another backhanded shot at the incumbent quarterback?
Mondesire's comment, as reported by ESPN yesterday, is full of the same kind of mind-numbing logic he applied in his screed on McNabb.
"We believe Michael Vick has served his time, paid his debt to society, and deserves a second chance, and the animal-rights groups want to hold him hostage for the rest of his life," Mondesire said. "We think that's patently unfair. It denies Michael Vick's basic civil rights, denies him his ability to make a living."
Even if Vick didn't have an NFL contract that will pay him $1.6 million this year and much more in 2010, he would not be denied his "ability to make a living." He could go out and get any number of jobs. There is no "basic civil right" to be paid seven figures to run around with a ball in your hand.
Second, no animal-rights group is trying to "hold him hostage." The Humane Society of the United States has formed a relationship with Vick and supports his comeback. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has remained against his return to the NFL, but its members also have civil rights and are entitled to voice their opinions. None of these groups has the ability to deny Vick employment or his freedom.
So the only thing Mondesire and his cohorts can accomplish is to inject race into a controversy that has, for the most part, been free of that aspect. After all, Vick's harshest critics are only doing what this country's greatest civil-rights leader asked us to do: judging him not by the color of his skin but by the content of his character.
In the end, a pro-Vick rally isn't the issue any more than an anti-Vick rally would be. No doubt, tonight's activities will lead to an even bigger sideshow during the regular season. The issue is that all of this was utterly predictable and completely avoidable, and the Eagles inflicted it on us anyway.