The League

Michael Oriard
Author

Michael Oriard

An English professor at Oregon State University and the author of several books on football, including Brand NFL Making and Selling America's Favorite Sport and The End of Autumn Reflections on My Life in Football

Vick's Corporate Exile

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This morning, when I read that Nike had re-signed Michael Vick, I was surprised by the suddenness and by the speed of the public's forgiveness, but the sequence made sense. First, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell allowed Vick to return to the NFL, if some team would take him. Then the Philadelphia Eagles, a team in a gritty multi-ethnic city, whose citizens have long experience with having to get along with each other, signed him to a contract and eased him into the lineup. Now Nike, with its broader national and international image at stake, had deemed it safe to embrace the new Michael Vick. I assumed that Nike had been tracking Vick's reception over the past weeks, probably conducting its own surveys and focus groups, and had decided that Vick was again a safe investment. Whatever the truth in Michael Vick's heart, the public--that is, Nike's consumers and potential consumers--had welcomed him back, or at least suspended their objections. His official redemption was now complete.

Wrong. Two hours later I read that Nike had not in fact signed a "contractual relationship" with Vick, as his entourage had announced, and that the company had only agreed to supply him with gear, as it did for numerous athletes not under contract. This announcement, rather than the specifics of Vick's crime and punishment, seem to me to render him permanently untouchable for Nike, and likely for the rest of corporate America.

In the branded universe of the National Football League and Nike, Michael Vick's "redemption" has never been a matter of what might quaintly be termed "spiritual" or "moral" transformation, but rather of public perceptions--or more precisely, of the corporations' reading of public perceptions. Vick could spend an entire off-season in Calcutta, ministering to the poor in Mother Teresa's old neighborhood, and his actions would be meaningless for his "redemption" unless they received lots of publicity back home.

I would love to know whether Vick's agency misrepresented an actual agreement, or perhaps announced it prematurely, before Nike had a chance to lay some PR groundwork. If so, that would likely mean that the announcement prompted a flood of complaints to Nike headquarters, which prompted the company's denial and correction. But, however the talks between Nike and Vick's agent actually played out, the denial immediately following upon the initial announcement would seem to settle the matter permanently. Having publicly judged Michael Vick still unworthy, Nike has deepened the sense that his sins are unforgivable. Continued silence from Nike would have meant nothing. But having renounced Vick a second time, after the NFL and the Eagles accepted him back from exile, Nike has staked out a position from which it would be extraordinarily difficult, perhaps impossible, to retreat. And if Nike has taken this stance, whether willingly or reluctantly, how can any other major corporation do otherwise without seeming to be less concerned about moral and social values?

Michael Vick did nothing this week to strengthen or weaken his own prospects. He is neither more nor less worthy today than he was twenty-four or forty-eight hours ago. It was always unlikely that he could fully recover his good name, but it did not seem impossible. Now, barring a documentary following several off-seasons in Calcutta, Vick's banishment from corporate endorsements would seem to be permanent.

By Michael Oriard  |  October 2, 2009; 4:58 AM ET  | Category:  Michael Vick , Philadelphia Eagles Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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We can only hope that your prediction that "Vick's banishment from corporate endorsements would seem to be permanent" actually becomes a reality. The only endorsement deal he is worthy of receiving is to have his face imprinted on urinal cakes.

Posted by: Jenni13 | October 2, 2009 5:23 PM

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