Why Did Obama Weigh In On Michael Vick?

Vouching for Michael Vick is troublesome, particularly when facing a tough reelection fight.

By + More

Peter King, the country’s preeminent pro football writer, reported yesterday that President Obama called Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie to weigh in on the comeback of quarterback Michael Vick. King wrote:

"The president wanted to talk about two things, but the first was Michael, Lurie told me. "He said, 'So many people who serve time never get a fair second chance. He was ... passionate about it. He said it's never a level playing field for prisoners when they get out of jail. And he was happy that we did something on such a national stage that showed our faith in giving someone a second chance after such a major downfall."

I voted for the president, and I have enjoyed watching Vick tear up the NFL this season. I’m rooting for Vick to make a clean comeback. But with all due respect, Mr. President, what were you thinking?

First, let’s start with the substance. Is Michael Vick the right example of “ex-con given a second chance”? The former number one draft pick with all-world talent? Would the Eagles have been lining up to give a second chance to an ex-con backup tight end or a long snapper with a felony record? Surely the president doesn’t think that Vick’s ability to throw the football and outrun defensive ends is going to create a hiring renaissance for the average ex-con in America. The Eagles made a football bet on Michael Vick, not a policy bet, and the bet paid off. So far.

[See photos of the Obamas behind the scenes.]

But second, on the politics, what is the possible upside here? Barack Obama doesn’t know Michael Vick any better than I do. Is Michael Vick going to stay clean? Has he completely turned his life around? I hope so, and it’s a great story if he does, but I wouldn’t bet my reputation on it.

To wit, S.L. Price wrote an in-depth Sports Illustrated cover story earlier this year about Vick and his messy, meandering path back to polite society. Price covered Vick’s partying during the last off-season, culminating in his inexplicably stupid decision to have an open-to-the-public 30th birthday party in which Vick’s codefendant from his criminal case showed up and took a bullet in the leg (Vick was not involved in the shooting). That was in June. As in six months ago.

Every now and again, the president dives into a thorny social issue with no possible upside. He did it after the arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr., resulting in a bunch of political sidestepping and re-explaining and backtracking, and eventually the laughable “beer summit.” But at least then, he actually knew Gates and could vouch for his character.

Michael Vick? I wouldn’t vouch for much more than his scrambling ability, particularly if I were facing a tough re-election fight.

  • See photos of the Obamas behind the scenes.
  • Follow the money in Congress.
  • Check out this month's best political cartoons.