BETHLEHEM, Pa. - You can tell Roger Goodell and the Eagles are wrong about Michael Vick by the knots they twist themselves into while trying to justify their actions - and inaction.
The NFL commissioner dropped into Eagles camp Tuesday afternoon along with John Madden in some rock star's tour bus. Goodell included Lehigh University on his tour of training camps partly so he could meet with Vick about his ill-fated June birthday party. Goodell then proceeded to contort himself into a variety of knots during a 15-minute news conference.
He held the news conference before meeting with Vick and officially informing him that he doesn't face further discipline. The timing was a crafty move by the PR-savvy Goodell because it allowed him to deflect all the difficult questions and avoid being pinned down on the inconsistencies in his position.
"I tried to look at this and understand the facts," Goodell said, while joining the Eagles and Vick in withholding those facts from the fans.
Did he seriously consider further disciplinary action against Vick?
When did he decide against it? Why did he decide against it? Goodell wouldn't even say that he'd decided anything at that point.
What did he learn from the league investigation into the night Vick's old dog-fighting conspirator Quanis Phillips got shot after Vick's for-profit birthday bash?
Setting aside the shooting for a moment, is Vick reporting income from the event to the bankruptcy court as part of his obligation to his many creditors?
Why is it OK for a guy who was given a zero-tolerance policy to stage such an event and be around alcohol and guns at 2 a.m.?
"I'd like to sit with him and share that with him before I share it with everybody else," Goodell said.
By not answering these kinds of questions, Goodell feeds the perception that he and the Eagles are letting Vick slide to protect themselves. They exposed themselves to criticism and second-guessing by making it possible for Vick to sign with the Eagles a year ago. Jeff Lurie, who still hasn't addressed the most recent incident, set very high standards for Vick's continued employment with this team.
"As I told him a year ago," Goodell said, "he can't afford any lapses in judgment. He just can't afford that. He needs to make sure he's held to that high standard."
It certainly looks from here as if those standards have been lowered - from "agent for social change" to "hey, the victim didn't cooperate and no charges were filed" - because adhering to them would mean admitting the whole experiment was a failure.
So instead, Goodell swooped in and shook his finger and told Vick that he really, really, really means it this time.
A couple of hours after the news conference, Goodell met with Vick and then issued a statement that said, in part, that Vick will be required "to meet even higher standards." It was impossible not to think of Dean Wormer placing the Delta crew on "double secret probation" in Animal House.
Goodell also said that undisclosed steps will be taken to give Vick, a 30-year-old man, mentoring and support to help him make "better decisions." Presumably, Tony Dungy will be forced to monitor Facebook 24 hours a day to make sure no more ill-conceived ventures are promoted by Vick and his brother, Marcus.
The stakes are pretty high for the Eagles at this point. By committing to the unproven Kevin Kolb and dumping Donovan McNabb after 11 years of holding himself to the highest standards of conduct, they are in the tenuous position of needing Vick badly. He is their only quarterback with a real NFL track record.
Did that play into Goodell's thinking? The Eagles were the only team willing to give Vick the shot at redemption the commissioner bestowed upon him. It would be pretty cold to leave them high and dry by suspending Vick again.
But that brings us back to the beginning: Goodell and the Eagles are the ones who created the situation they now find themselves in. They are the ones who decided to rely on a guy who has been chronically unreliable.
It has been fascinating to observe the Vick phenomenon during his first public training camp practices with the Eagles. He is far and away the most famous player on this team. He was in great demand during his rotation in the postpractice autograph tent Monday. Fans hold up his jersey and call to him as he walks off the practice field.
Fame matters infinitely more than how it was attained.
"I like to see people succeed," Goodell said. "I'm a positive person. We have too much negativity out there."
That's certainly true when it comes to Vick. Maybe when he untwists himself, Goodell will be able to see that all of that negativity starts with Vick himself.