The issuance of statements from the NFL insisting that quarterback Mike Vick wasn’t steered to the Eagles and from Vick insisting that the decision to go to the Eagles was his and his alone implies the existence of a conflict with the GQ interview in which his comments regarding an initial reluctance to go to Philadelphia appeared. And for good reason. The interview widely has been interpreted as suggesting that the league at best nudged Vick to the Eagles and at worst packed him with foam peanuts in a box bound for the City of Brotherly Love. The author of the interview, however, sees no inconsistency.
“The story stands on its own,” Will Leitch told PFT via e-mail on Thursday. “I obviously recorded the whole interview (I cannot take notes that fast) and it went through the lengthy — oh, how lengthy — GQ fact-checking process several times over.
“The story never claims that Goodell ‘steered’ him into signing with Philly, or that he was ‘forbidden’ from signing with Buffalo or Cincinnati. That came from the Deadspin piece last night, which everyone ran with. (Those Deadspin rascals. CAN’T TRUST ‘EM.)”
Leitch is the founder of Deadspin. He remains the site’s Editor Emeritus. Though we’re tempted to characterize his comments as a case of Deadspin-on-Deadspin crime, he’s clearly joking. (Unfortunately.)
Deadspin had the first word on the interview because, frankly, Deadspin disregarded the embargo that GQ placed on the excerpts of the story. That said, Deadspin didn’t set the agenda for interpreting Vick’s words and the words used by Leitch to characterize Vick’s words. We received the same excerpts Deadspin received, and I’d already concluded that Vick was saying he had been steered by the league to the Eagles before I saw the Deadspin article last night.
And for good reason. The e-mail from GQ led with the following excerpt:
“Michael Vick on not originally wanting to come to Philly:
“‘I think I can say this now, because it’s not going to hurt anybody’s feelings, and it’s the truth… I didn’t want to come to Philadelphia. Being the third-team quarterback is nothing to smile about. Cincinnati and Buffalo were better options.’
“Those two teams wanted him and would’ve allowed him to start, but after meeting with commissioner Roger Goodell and other reps from the NFL, Vick was convinced—and granted league approval—to sign with Philly. ‘And I commend and thank them, because they put me in the right situation.'”
With due respect to Vick and to the Eagles and to the NFL and to Leitch, that passage implies pretty strongly that “Goodell and other reps from the NFL” at least advised and at most coerced Vick to pick the Eagles. The choice of words clearly indicates a causal link between the input from Goodell and other league officials and Vick’s decision. However, Leitch believes that the truth lies in the difference between the words “convinced” and “persuaded.”
“The piece says that he was convinced (not ‘persuaded’) to sign with Philadelphia, and that he got league approval to do so,” Leitch said. “That is all the story has said from the beginning. These things are undeniably true. Vick had countless advisors on that critical move, and Goodell and the NFL — obviously — were a part of the process. This
‘steering’ and ‘forbidden’ business came from places outside of this story.”
He’s right that the words “steering” and “forbidden” were applied to the situation by others. But when Leitch writes that “after meeting with commissioner Roger Goodell and other reps from the NFL, Vick was convinced — and granted league approval — to sign with Philly,” and when the next sentence consists of a quote from Vick in which he says “I commend and thank them, because they put me in the right situation,” a reasonable person of reasonable intelligence reasonably could conclude that Vick didn’t “convince” himself to join the Eagles, but that others “convinced” him to do it. When the subsequent thought consists of a quote in which Vick “commend[s] and thank[s] them” because “they put [him] in the right situation,” it’s also fair and reasonable to infer that Vick’s decision was the product of the advice, or something stronger, of others.
Vick didn’t say he put himself in Philly. He said “they put [him]” there.
The fact that Leitch believes his article to be consistent with Vick’s statement takes considerable sting — and steam — out of the situation. But the article says what the article says, and Deadpin, PFT, NFL.com, and plenty of others interpreted the article to say that Goodell and other league officials infringed upon Vick’s independent process of picking a team and advised, encouraged, urged, and/or steered Vick to pick the Eagles.