ON FRIDAY famed rock guitarist Nils Lofgren published a letter scolding both the media and the NFL for praising and promoting Michael Vick, saying, "However repentant he may be, he committed acts whose vileness will resonate down the years.

"Shame on the NFL for not banning him permanently," he wrote. "How can we justify this saga to our children?"

Yesterday, Lofgren seemed to answer his own question with a more conciliatory follow-up, recognizing Vick's attempts to make amends by speaking out against dogfighting at schools and imploring reporters and commentators to, "Help him do his job and shine more of a regular light on his efforts off the field to abolish dogfighting. I see only an upside to that."

Nils has played alongside some shady dudes over the years, including - Goodness, gracious, Great balls of fire - Jerry Lee Lewis, who married his second cousin when she was 13. But putting aside for a moment the irony of someone immersed in the rock and roll culture lecturing anyone about mixed messages to our offspring, Lofgren's over-the-weekend change of heart underlines the moral quicksand media have been standing on since this melodrama began.

The premise that writing about Vick making the most of his second chance is akin to sweeping the images of those poor abused dogs under some rug is just plain absurd. It's the opposite. You can't write about Vick without at least mentioning the dogs. A search on Google News yesterday using his name and dogfighting produced 672 stories, most of them written since he emerged from Eagles backup to NFL star. That, Lofgren admitted yesterday, "Would certainly put the NFL's decision to reinstate Vick in a better light and help get this awful mentality out of young, future players and fans alike."

Truth is, Vick's presence has unearthed an unsightly but necessary cultural debate over what crimes are more heinous than others. Truth is, there are people out there who, when among like-minded friends, will downsize Vick's sins and contend he has paid too dearly. He went to Leavenworth for 18 months.

A recent report said he was $12 million in debt.

And yes there is a portion of media out there that equates pardon with performance. Some are ex-jocks with little training in media, and even less upstairs. And yes, I suspect a few of them are not as appalled by the photos as, well, they should be.

Is Vick? It's the great debate - his sincerity. What we know is that he is not shying away from the topic, regardless of how many times he is asked the same unanswerable, soul-searching question: How could you?

Each time he answers, not in one word or one sentence, but in complete thoughts. He was a bad, bad guy but now he is trying to be good and do good. He speaks of what a lengthy stint in prison did to him and for him, and what he wants to do now.

Sometimes it sounds sincere. Sometimes it sounds recited. But what's a reporter to do? Should every football success of his this season and in the future contain this qualifier?

"Vick down the sideline . . . Touchdown! . . . "

"Bad, bad guy."

Or should we listen to him, report what he says, debate the sincerity and debate if there is anything he can do, or say, in the court of opinion that will atone for those past sins?

As for your children. It's the moral grapple, especially with the gift-giving season upon us. Shirt or no shirt? Autograph or no autograph? But this "saga" as Lofgren calls it, is a recurring one in our world, not the lone domain of Michael Vick. And again, we run into some of the same problems with the music industry these days, especially the language degrading to women.

Maybe you tell them what Nils' boss, The Boss, once said while discussing the inconsistencies of those in his industry, including himself.

"Trust the art," said Bruce Springsteen. "Not the artist."

Like when Tom Brady got his ex-girlfriend pregnant while dating Gisele Bundchen. That was a tricky one on the old home front.

So were those sexual assault charges against Ben Roethlisberger.

And the whole Brett Favre fiasco?

"Just watch the games," I tell my kids. Then go do something positive.

Send e-mail to donnels@phillynews.com.

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