It seems I take an unpopular stand in the controversy over ex-con Michael Vick’s return to the National Football League. You’ve heard of Mr. Vick, that incredibly gifted athlete and equally stupid and misguided human being that went to prison for his leading role in a dog fighting enterprise.
I happen to think Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie made a brilliant tactical move in buying up this piece of damaged goods for his club. I also believe that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is to be applauded for his decision to give Michael Vick a second chance; not because he’s so deserving, but because it was the difficult, yet right thing to do.
Michael Vick was a disaster in the making from his days in Pop Warner football and his gift just about destroyed him. Having lived in Atlanta during Vick’s pre-felon Falcon career, I was never impressed with either his level of maturity or character. He grew up a jock, overindulged by parents, coaches, fans, and wannabe friends. Each time he opened his mouth it was clear that apparently he had also been too cool for school. In short, he was an easily distracted man-child with a spinning moral compass, too much money and notoriety, and a posse of reprobate ‘gangstas’ that were more than eager to play into his worst inclinations. But, he was a feared competitor on the football field and that made a lot of things go away for the fans of a ho-hum club that had never seen a QB like him playing in the Georgia Dome for the home team.
You know all about what followed; the crime, the indictment, the trial, the sentence, the time in prison away from football, the personal bankruptcy. All the bad stuff. Now he’s back and here is where I part company with popular opinion.
He did some bad stuff. And for that bad stuff, the legal system that holds you and me (and Vick as well)accountable for our behavior sentenced him to federal prison. He served his sentence just as you and I would have served ours. Roger Goodell, acting on behalf of the NFL was correct in not re-sentencing a former employee for something that the courts had already dealt with, lest he take on the role of a moral arbiter. The commish offered a second chance and opened the bidding to every team in the NFL. Nobody bit except Jeffrey Lurie. He sought the advice of one of the most respected men in NFL history, Tony Dungy and accepted his offer for mentorship. Rumor has it Dungy had already spent many hours with Vick while still in detention. Lurie also met with Vick in several one on one sessions and came to an informed decision to take a chance on a guy that no other team was willing to take.
Lurie may or may not regret it. Just in case QB #1 goes down, he got one of the best athletes available for NFL chump change; about $1.5 million . Considering Donovan McNabb’s history those are pretty good odds. But who’s to say Michael Vick is only suited to play quarterback? Before he went away, the kid could run and catch the football pretty well also and there’s nobody playing defense that doesn’t respect his moves and speed. Certainly Atlanta thought so.
But, there is a downside. Michael arrives with a lot of baggage in a city that has a reputation for chasing bad actors away, He’s probably lost a step or two confined to doing laps in an 8’X8’ cell. He is an unknown quantity in terms of who he has become over the last three years. Time will tell if prison forced Vick to grow up and reorganize his priorities.
This has the potential to be an incredible story of redemption. Whether or not Michael accepts this chance is entirely up to him. Its a win-win for the Eagles organization and the NFL. I suspect Mr. Vick is hungry, certainly he is broke. His appearance on 60 Minutes and his introductory press conference in Philly portrayed a Michael Vick I never saw in Atlanta. He is no longer so sure of himself as an athlete or an asset.. He seemed to have a sense of how far he has fallen in the eyes of his supporters, his peers, and his own potential. He had a humility that only comes from genes or from being broken. I suspect it didn’t come from his genes.
There are three supporting characters in his rehab that will be pivotal in Vick digging himself out of the hole he created. Donovan McNabb, a stand-up guy by every account and an athlete that could teach Vick a thing or two about the NFL; Tony Dungy, a quality human being with a voice that Mike needs to soak up like a sponge, and Coach Andy Reid, who could write book about dysfunctional family members with core issues; they hold the keys to Michael Vick’s future in the NFL and as a citizen. Hopefully, Mike will use them.
Americans love stories that involve the redemption of fallen heroes. Mike Vick fell a long way. The Eagles and Roger Goodell have given him an opportunity to redeem himself as an athlete, but more importantly as a human being. If he is successful, he will have accomplished it in a city that doesn’t normally give second chances to their athletes.
I’m pulling for him.