The spectacularly cynical idea that Michael Vick would benefit from an appearance on "Oprah"

michael-vick-with-attorneyAs best I can tell, the spectacularly cynical idea that Michael Vick would benefit from an appearance on “Oprah” first surfaced after his arrest in 2007.

It’s an unexpected testament to Vick himself, and perhaps, to the rehabilitative powers of the Leavenworth penitentiary, that he’s not yet succumbed to such temptation. Never mind what the Oprah interview did not do for the likes of Michael Jackson and Marion Jones. Only a society as whiny and opportunistic as ours would consider the redemptive value of an audience with Ms. Winfrey. It’s just this kind of thinking — one that confuses mere strategy with genuine atonement — that has produced such a distrustful generation.

At some level, I’d like to think that Vick understands his own limits as well as those of the confessional interview. One can cry on cue, but a sick person is still sick, and a liar is still a liar. With Vick just a day away from being transferred to a halfway house, he is well advised to keep it simple. In Vick’s case, the less he talks, the better. Besides, repentance should be expressed simply and somberly. Deeds are preferable to words. Let him emancipate the oppressed denizens of a puppy mill. Let him bankroll an animal shelter. Or three.

But let everyone else understand what separates Vick’s case from that of so many other fallen athletes. You’re entitled to hate him, of course. But he’s done his time. To deny a 28-year-old ex-con an opportunity to do the one thing at which he excels is un-American.

I’m not a bleeding heart, nor has sports journalism left me particularly optimistic about the human condition. But I believe, now as ever, that Vick will get his shot. A bad guy will get another chance to play NFL football, but for all the right reasons.

The real problem — the political one — is what to do with the activist classes, the self-righteous cadres who spend their leisure hours in protest. I say give them another Cause, just as worthy, and perhaps, even more relevant.

With Cleveland receiver Donte Stallworth awaiting trial on manslaughter charges for killing a pedestrian while driving drunk, the time has come to end DUIs in the NFL.

It’s not too much to expect a young guy with some money in his pocket to call a car service. Our football writer, Alex Marvez, tells me that a lot of teams even have hotlines players can call. Punch in the number and a guy magically arrives to drive you and your Bentley home.

It’s 2009. There’s no excuse for NFL players to be driving drunk or stoned. Still, two years after commissioner Roger Goodell got tough on bad behavior, the problem seems like an epidemic.

For a while now, the San Diego Union-Tribune has been compiling an extraordinary and profoundly troubling roster of NFL players arrested since 2000. Going back to May 1, 2008, there are 59 incidents. By my count, 26 of these arrests are for guys driving a vehicle recklessly, drunk, or in possession of marijuana. A few of these cases were dropped, like Cedric Benson’s arrest for boating while intoxicated. A couple — like Marshawn Lynch, who hit a 27-year-old pedestrian with his Porsche — make no mention of booze or drugs. Maybe that’s because the charge against Lynch — who was arrested again in February while driving with a loaded gun — was basically a hit and run.

Nevertheless, each of these incidents has the same horrific potential as the Stallworth case. It’s nothing new, either. Eleven years ago, Rams defensive end Leonard Little killed a woman named Susan Gutweiler while driving drunk after celebrating his 24th birthday. Susan Gutweiler was 47, a wife and mother to a 15-year-old son.

Little got 90 days and community service. Vick has been in jail since November 2007.

Little would be arrested again in 2004 for drunk driving, a charge he beat, and speeding, a charge he did not. But I digress. As anyone who’s ever worked on a city desk knows, people tend to care more about dogs than they do other people.

So, while saving lives is nice and all, how do you make it an issue?

I don’t know. But what would happen if a drunk ballplayer ran over somebody’s pit bull?

You think Oprah would take up the cause?