Michael Vick killed dogs. There, I said it to save you all the trouble of reminding me of how terrible of a person he is once you are done reading this post. I am not here to defend his actions, nor condone them. What he did was wrong, despicable, and downright unacceptable. What I am here to say is that with a little focus, determination, and support; even someone like Michael Vick can turn their life around.
When Michael Vick was taken as the first overall pick in the 2001 NFL draft, there was as much doubt surrounding him as any pick in recent memory. Sure, he was an amazing quarterback at Virginia Tech, but that wasn’t an NFL style offense. He relied on his legs, his speed, and sheer athletic talent to dominate the college game, but all the pundits said his style wouldn’t work in the NFL. His coaches in Atlanta tried to force him to be a pocket quarterback, and he kept fighting it. We saw flashes of brilliance and plenty of highlight reel material during his time in Atlanta, but football is a cruel game and after a few seasons without a championship, the fans turned on him. A young, brash Vick then turned on the fans, even stooping as low as flipping the bird to all in attendance at the Georgia Dome after a poor performance in 2006. This was one of the most overt, in a litany of bad choices and run ins with the law.
Then it all came crashing down. In 2007, Vick pled guilty to felony dog fighting charges. Sure, it was only a matter of time before they found out, but the incident stemmed from a federal drug investigation on Vick’s cousin. The ensuing search led to the discovery of the kennels. It was alleged that Vick financed the operation, directly participated in dog fights and executions, and personally handled thousands of dollars in related gambling activities. Vick did not deny this.
The media immediately began labeling him as a thug, as an example of everything that’s wrong with the world and more particularly, African-American culture. The fans and the media called for his head and animal activist groups began proposing punishments far outweighing the crime he committed.
In December of 2007 Vick was sentenced to 23 months in Federal Prison at Leavenworth Kansas. He served 21 months of that sentence and was released in July of 2009, bankrupt with nowhere to go. So he turned back to the game he loved; the game that brought him 60 minutes of peace and solitude every Sunday. But the fans wouldn’t have him back. The Falcons certainly didn’t want him back, and no coach or organization was willing to take the media firestorm that was sure to follow his signing with another team.
And then came Tony Dungy. The long time Colts head coach, who had a penchant for discipline and accountability, took Vick under his wing and counseled him. Dungy began to see Vick for the talent and passion he had inside of him, rather than the scandal and poor decisions that muddled his public figure. Vick and Dungy met with the commissioner to work out a reinstatement to the NFL, which was in no way a guarantee that he would even get picked up by a team.
The Eagles took what was then a huge risk on Vick. They already had a Pro-Bowl Quarterback in Donovan McNabb and many questioned why the Eagles felt the need to bring a distraction like Vick onto their roster. Again, the public showed their disdain towards Vick with activist groups pledging to donate 1,000 bags of dog food for every time Vick was sacked, and much more if he was injured. This was society at its lowest. Fan’s don’t seem to mind when athletes have affairs and illegitimate children. When they gamble, fight, or do drugs. Look at Josh Hamilton from the Texas Rangers. He is the MLB equivalent of Vick. A highly talented athlete, who ran into some trouble, missed a couple seasons because of drug and alcohol abuse, and returned to baseball and had an amazing comeback. The fans embrace him, the media embraces him, and his teammates embrace him. But not the same with Vick.
Apparently there are some ghosts that will haunt you no matter how far removed you are from them. sometimes it takes more than just a great night, or even a great season to forgive the transgressions of one’s past. Vick’s 6 total touchdowns (4 Passing, 2 Rushing), 300+passing yards, and 50+ rushing yards last night was an NFL first. Nobody in the decades prior to last night had ever turned in a performance like that. Vick is a perfect example of someone who had all the talent in the world, squandered it, was given a shot at redemption and capitalized on it.
Vick doesn’t care what other people think of his checkered past. He is focused on the game of football right now and he is having an unforgettable season. He is willing to pay for his crimes. His nearly two years in Leavenworth were enough for the courts, but what will it take for him to pay his debt to the fans? If the currency of the NFL fan is touchdowns and record setting games, then Vick just paid a huge down payment.