Does Allowing Convicted Felons Like Vick and Burress Back Into the NFL “Send the Wrong Message”?

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Now that Plaxico Burress has been released from prison after serving time for a gun charge, he is looking to get back into society and get his career back on track – his career just happens to be pretty high profile, as he is an NFL wide receiver. With the media talk surrounding others like Vick’s arrest and re-entry into the NFL, and now with Burress out of jail and looking to get back to work, the question is again raised “does allowing this send the wrong message?” I would argue that it does not, at all, send the wrong message, that in fact, it sends exactly the right message to our society at large.

Many said that when Vick got out of jail and was signed by the Philadelphia Eagles, that this sent the wrong message to youth. This has, again, become a topic of conversation with the similar situation that Burress now finds himself in. But when you look at it from an “outsider looking in” perspective, it actually demonstrates a very important part of our democracy to our kids, and should be something that, in my humble opinion, we should all encourage and champion, beyond the shining lights of the NFL.

The basic agreed upon point of our judicial system is that those who break agreed upon laws should be held accountable for their crimes. It does not, however, say that we should continue to persecute these individuals beyond their state sanctioned sentence. We can simplify our judicial system as such: “You do something wrong, you will serve your time. Then you have been “punished” enough for your crimes.” However, for convicted felons, there is a huge stigma attached to them upon release, and many do not have the ability to really truly reintegrate into our society. This is truly a shame because our society helps keep them on the fringes with stigmas and making living a basic life for a convicted felon pretty darn difficult.

Vick served his time – he has, as our society asks, paid for the consequences of his actions. Once he has finished serving his time, and continues to maintain good behavior, why should we continue to treat him as if he is still a criminal when he has been punished and paid for the consequences of his actions? We wouldn’t continually make a child caught stealing pay for their crime, why should adults be any different? I commend the Eagles for allowing Vick back onto the team and the NFL for allowing him to be eligible in the first place.

Jail time can actually help people in ways that are hard to explain or quantify. Vick had problems with his play on the field before he went to jail. However, when he got out, he worked hard, matured, and really developed into a high quality, top-caliber quarterback. That has to be an incredible accomplishment for him and should be an inspiration for all who have been on the wrong side of the law. Before going to jail, Burress was continually called out for lacking skill, or the work ethic required to perfect those skills. Jail has a way of making one a lot more patient, and if he works hard, and can prove that he can be a valuable asset to any NFL team, I think we should see that as a good – no great – thing. It is an example of someone for whom the “system” actually worked. Like Vick, Burress could be living proof that redemption and change truly are possible.

The NFL is a big stage and so many different spectrum’s of our society watch it – there is no race or class divide when it comes to football fans – and I personally feel like sports media is a far healthier and democratic form of media when compared to traditional news. Sports media will “touch” those “hot topics”, fans and reporters alike are critical, and I believe that a change in the viewpoint of something as small as thinking that allowing a reformed criminal to have a chance to do their job again is a great step in the right direction. And if Burress has improved, it could make football even greater than it already is.