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Where to go?

Today's flash points include a Harvard professor, Supreme Court nominee and vilified quarterback.

Say hello to

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Henry Louis Gates Jr.

,

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Sonia Sotomayor
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and

Michael Vick

.

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We sports types will leave Gates to sociologists and Sotomayor to the Senate. But Vick?

He's right in our wheelhouse, at the confluence of

ESPN

, PETA and

NFL

.

So we've all had our say.

You think Vick's an unsalvageable dog killer. I suspect that while he was serially stupid and cruel, he's capable of reform.

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You believe the feds hosed Vick. I counter that his 23-month sentence was shorter than the norm for felony conspiracy.

You contend the NFL should have banned Vick forever. I cite

Leonard Little

.

But enough already. Now that league strongman

Roger Goodell

has tiptoed into the (cess?) pool — his reinstatement of Vick on Monday was painfully vague — the story moves blessedly into the football arena.

To wit: How valuable, if at all, is a 29-year-old, three-time Pro Bowler who hasn't taken a snap since

New Year's Eve

2006?

Which, if any, teams possess the ownership, coaching staff and locker room resolute enough to handle the Vick sideshow?

How influential might former

Indianapolis Colts

coach Tony Dungy become?

First, let's be clear about Vick's career arc. After leading the

Atlanta Falcons

to the

NFC

championship game during the 2004 season, he declined in two consecutive years.

The Falcons were a combined 15-17 in 2005 and '06, and although Vick rushed for a quarterback-record 1,039 yards in the latter season, his completion percentage (52.6) was the worst of his four full years.

Say what you will about Vick's transcendent speed and flair. Pro quarterbacks must throw effectively to prosper, and he did not those last two seasons.

That said, Vick might be able to refine his mechanics and reads. Moreover, his natural talents are tailored for a receiver/returner/situational-quarterback hybrid.

The layoff? At the risk of countless nastygrams, two words:

Ted Williams

.

Please, please, please understand. This is not to equate the character of a war hero to that of a felon. Or to maintain that Vick belongs in the same sports conversation with arguably the greatest hitter in baseball history.

But Williams gave three seasons of his prime to military service, and upon returning to the

Boston Red Sox

in 1946 earned MVP honors with a .342 average, 38 home runs and 123 RBI.

Don't like that parallel?

Muhammad Ali

and

Michael Jordan

also regained world-class form after lengthy absences.

Point is: Dedicated, gifted and fortunate athletes are capable of shedding rust if given the chance. And while no owner, coach or general manager is raising his hand and shouting, "Me, me, me," it's hard to fathom every team taking a pass.

Yes, media will descend, while some fans and animal-rights advocates object. But will the noise be any more distracting than what accompanied the recent returns of A-Roid and Manny?

At last check, their teams were basking in first place.

Some have mentioned the

Oakland Raiders

and

Cincinnati Bengals

, the Father Flanagans of the NFL, as possible Vick destinations. But

Al Davis

' Raiders are a farce, and Bengals owner

Mike Brown

says no thanks.

The

Miami Dolphins

and Bill Parcells? They drafted West Virginia's

Pat White

, a younger Vick, sans baggage.

The

Washington Redskins

? Put nothing past owner

Dan Snyder

, but a fledgling, short-leashed coach such as Jim Zorn is the last thing Vick needs.

The

New England Patriots

,

Pittsburgh Steelers

or Indianapolis Colts? From the owner's suite to front office to locker room, they certainly have the organizational strength to develop Vick.

This brings us to Dungy, as decent a gentleman as you're likely to find. He knows far too much about personal loss — his son committed suicide — and has graciously volunteered to mentor Vick.

Uncertain terms notwithstanding — Vick is cleared for practice and two of four exhibition games, with regular-season eligibility to be determined by mid-October, at the latest — Dungy applauded Goodell's decision.

"When I was coaching and came across a player who had had troubles before coming to our team," Dungy wrote on his blog Tuesday, "I would always lay out what was expected and let that player know that he wasn't going to be treated like everyone else.

"He wouldn't get the benefit of the doubt, and his behavior would have to be above reproach. That's the way he could prove to me that he had changed and that he understood what we were looking for. …

"I think Michael deserves the chance to show people he has changed and learned from past mistakes. But my true hope is that he will make sound decisions about his future and, at the same time, let people know more about the person I've come to know recently. I know the public will be skeptical, but I think, over time, people will find there's a different side to him than what they've seen so far."

Well said by a principled voice. Here's hoping the right NFL team listens.

David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at dteel@dailypress.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime.

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