Last night, the Philadelphia Eagles announced that they had signed quarterback Michael Vick to a two-year contract. Vick, of course, is returning to football after serving time for running a dog-fighting ring. The move by the Eagles, of course, is fraught with risk. Vick’s inhumane treatment of animals has made him one of the most controversial and hated figures in all of sports. This could lead to deteriorating team morale and loss of fan support. The addition of Vick also has the potential for great reward. He is an exceptional talent and his addition to the roster could be enough bring the Super Bowl victory that the City of Philadelphia craves.
The signing of Vick, however, stands in stark contrast to the image that Coach Andy Reed and the Eagles have always tried to portray. They have always proclaimed “character” as the most important attribute in a player. This move makes their public pronouncements seem hollow. Is “character” less important when a special talent is involved? It seems so. This move, and the earlier signing of Terrell Owens, seems to signal that the team will relax it’s rules and it’s team culture for special athletes. In the words of Bill Murray, as Dr. Peter Venkman in Ghostbusters: “Actually, it’s more of a guideline than a rule…”
The Eagles would not be the first employer to abandon its culture for short-term gain. The case law is full of situations where workplace rules were ignored because the violator had too much power or made the company too much money. Think of the top selling salesman or rainmaking partner who is allowed to sexually harass. The money rolls in, but later roll out in the form of a large judgment or settlement.
The Eagles are a good football team, with or without Vick. And, I suppose a Super Bowl win will make the fans of Philadelphia forgive the Eagle’s willingness to sacrifice its team culture for the ultimate prize. In a championship-starved city, that’s understandable. Forgive, maybe. Forget, never.