Monday, May 25, 2009

Michael Vick is Out; T.I. is In ... Fair Justice or PR Maneuvering in the Courts?

Last week Michael Vick was released from a Leavenworth, Kansas federal prison after a 19 month sentence following his guilty plea for running a six-year long dogfighting ring known as “Bad Newz Kennels.”  Vick’s role has been questioned in the ring, however, we do know that he actively participated in several dog fights, shared the proceeds from the fights, had knowledge that underperforming dogs were executed, and helped fund the entire operation.  Now, the former NFL star will retreat to his Virginia home where he will work for $10 an hour at a construction company, volunteer with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), and serve out the remaining two months of his sentence under home confinement.  

Much like he has during this whole ordeal, Vick remained quiet following his release and avoided the media altogether upon leaving the prison facility.  There were no cries at how he’s a changed man and no words on his future rehabilitation efforts.  He simply got into his fiancé’s car and went home.

Meanwhile, the media frenzy that has surrounded Vick from day one picked up coverage like the well oiled machine that it is.  ESPN was out in full force airing coverage live from the scene of his release and the home he would return to.  Pundits were back again, declaring that Vick had much more to do if he wanted to return to his former job, including begging NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for another chance.  PETA has not stopped their campaign against Vick either, requesting that he undergo a brain scan to prove that he doesn’t have an anti-social personality disorder before returning to the NFL.  


Fast forward to this week, another Atlanta superstar is set to head to prison.  This time it is Billboard topping T.I. who was sentenced to 366 days in prison after pleading guilty to two charges of illegally possessing firearms and of being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm. The “King of the South” will be spending his time at a low-security federal prison in Forrest City, Arkansas. The guilty plea stems from his attempt to buy unlicensed machine guns and silencers in October of 2007. During the sting operation, authorities also found several guns in T.I.’s home and in the car he drove buy the guns, including a loaded gun tucked between the driver’s seat where he was sitting.  Normally T.I. would be subjected to five or more years in prison for the offense, however, part of his "experimental" plea deal included a reduced sentence combined with 1,000 hours of community service this past year and speaking to kids about the consequences of living a street life similar to his. 


Unlike Vick, T.I. has taken a completely different route regarding his pending incarceration.  While Vick did his best to avoid the media, T.I. has turned it into a large PR campaign by continually speaking out to the media and even capitalizing on the situation with the MTV show T.I.’s Road to Redemption.  

The PR campaign exercised by the T.I. camp has paid off.  While Vick spent 19 months in prison for an arguably lesser offense, (Vick’s actions were offensive but he dealt with dogs, T.I. dealt with machine guns) T.I. will only be spending a year away from home.  Vick has also taken a much larger financial hit as he had to walk away from his $130 million contract.  Let’s not forget that fellow emcee Foxy Brown was also sentenced to a year in prison for violating her probation … for fighting her manicurists in a nail salon.  

The role the media has played on these two individuals cannot be denied.  Vick entered prison a man convicted well beyond the courts with a damaged reputation that will likely be impossible to repair.  On the other hand, T.I. has successfully convinced the media that he is a changed man before spending one day behind bars. 

The obvious question to ask now is whether justice has really been served.  Is the role of the media too strong?  If you’re an entertainer, has T.I. set the precedent on dodging a severe sentence by working the airwaves in a positive way?

One thing is for sure, however, when T.I. walks back into society a free man in one year … the media will be waiting for him … as he steps to the podium. 

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