Two young men still at the top of their games copped pleas on August 27, 2007. They will both be going to Federal Prison despite their fabulous wealth and instant name recognition. They gambled their freedom and careers with bizarre acts of recklessness abetted by cronies without the strength to say no to them.
Gene Haas, the unlikely billionaire of American machine tools, and Michael Vick, the quarterback who redefined the position in the NFL, both saw their freedom slip away when their associates flipped to the prosecution. Even the shrewdest legal talent money could buy couldn’t keep them out of jail.
Haas’ hubris led him to tax evasion to cheat the U.S. treasury out of millions of dollars because he thought he was wronged on a patent dispute. Vick electrocuted pit bulls which he had gambled on and buried the bodies on his land.
Haas and Vick were both single men who defied the conventional wisdom of their games. Haas told the world he would build a vertical machining center in L.A., sell it for less than the Japanese builders, cut the price year after year and service it like the Maytag repairman.
Vick said the quarterback was a running back who scored points with his feet. He destroyed defenses built to thwart skilled white boys who played the vertical passing game.
Haas and Vick are iconoclasts in their respective worlds. They broke the defining rules of their peers and they were vilified by the established players. Both guys loved to stick it to the reigning authorities who mocked their unorthodoxies and said they had to fail because they were different and too difficult.
Maybe when you keep showing up everybody else in your field, make huge money, and travel the country in private jets, you think that society’s rules are for the little people. You’re going to do what you’re going to do, and you’re untouchable. It’s so Macbeth.
But in America, Presidents get impeached, and billionaires do go to jail, and quarterbacks plead. The judicial system is still painfully stacked towards the rich and famous, yet on August 27, two of our richest and most famous men conceded their freedom at federal court houses. Haas and Vick — two four letter words synonymous with greatness — and utter stupidity.