Skip to main content
Skip to navigation

MU Legal Expert Says Felon Status Shouldn't Prevent Michael Vick from Returning to the NFL

Aug. 20, 2007

Story Contact:  Bryan Daniels, 573-882-9144,

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Critics of Michael Vick contend the NFL quarterback should be banned from the NFL for agreeing to plead guilty to federal dog fighting conspiracy charges. A University of Missouri-Columbia legal expert says otherwise.

S. David Mitchell, an associate professor in the MU School of Law, said that after he pays his debt to society, Vick should be allowed back into the NFL. Vick will appear Monday in U.S. District Court in Richmond. As a result of the plea, he will be classified as a felon.

“I don't think that Michael Vick should be prevented from doing what he does. He shouldn't be denied the opportunity to play football,” said Mitchell, who recently completed an article examining the legal disabilities that ex-felons encounter following a conviction. “The uproar is so over the top when compared to reaction from other offenses committed by NFL players.”

Mitchell said socio-economics also factor into how people view this debate.

“If he were poor and an ex-felon, no one would deny him the right to work and earn a living,” said Mitchell, who also is a sociologist. “People would be up in arms if Vick couldn't earn a living. No one cares about that aspect of the argument because this is a multi-million dollar athlete.”

Mitchell said that as a felon, Vick will lose a host of legal rights — all of which are subject to restoration under specifics of Virginia law. The penalties don't extend to football. Complicating matters, Mitchell said, will be the NFL's decision — based on the league's conduct rules. The NFL hasn't announced its decision.

“He's an at-will employee,” he said. “Personal conduct policies apply, and that's the tricky issue. The league and team owners have an image to project. However, those policies are unsound considering the host of other offenses, such as domestic abuse and physical violence toward spouses and other people, which have been committed by players in the league. Many of those guys weren't banned for life from the NFL after such conduct.”

Mitchell said the primary issue for the NFL should be the link to gambling, which comes with dog fighting. “He's being charged with dog fighting and gambling; however, a lifetime ban shouldn't be based on dog cruelty issues. It's reasonable to expect a potential suspension because of gambling. The gambling isn't associated with his current occupation or organized sports. Unlike Pete Rose, he didn't bet on organized sports and that shouldn't result in a lifetime ban.”

Mitchell joined MU's faculty in 2006 after working two years in the Department of Sociology at the University of Colorado at Boulder. At Colorado, he taught and conducted research on felon disenfranchisement.