A federal judge in Richmond, Va., sentenced former Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick to 23 months in prison for his role in an illegal dogfighting ring. Whether Vick will ever play professional football again is up in the air. In the meantime, will he at least be able to play football in prison, a la The Longest Yard?
Possibly, depending on where he ends up. The federal Bureau of Prisons operates 114 facilities, and it’s up to each institution to organize recreational activities for its own inmates. While it’s official bureau policy to encourage organized sports and other activities for inmates to pursue during their leisure time, officials tend to avoid contact sports like football that can quickly get out of hand. So if Vick wants to play football behind bars, he’ll have to get lucky and end up somewhere that offers the sport.
Wardens prefer team sports like basketball, softball, and volleyball, which involve less physical interaction between players. But some curtail those activities as well, to avoid “Club Fed”-style accusations that prison is too easy for the inmates. When they do allow prisoners to play with the pigskin, it’s usually flag football. Even if a warden wanted to allow full-contact football, most prisons don’t stock, or can’t afford, the padding and other equipment necessary for tackling.
Even flag football can cause problems for prison guards. In 1991, a Colorado facility went into lockdown after a fight broke out; one player felt he’d been “hit a little hard” during the game. In 2004, a small riot started at a penitentiary for troubled girls in Florida when several inmates tried to hang themselves with the flags. (Unlike the movie TheLongest Yard, inmates never go up against the guards on the football field.)
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Explainer thanks Felicia Ponce of the Federal Bureau of Prisons and James Robinson of the Federal Correctional Institution in Morgantown, W.Va.