I think it’s important to remember what Michael Vick did.
Not on the football field. It’s easy to remember him there and to anticipate the many more thrills he is sure to provide his fans in the
years to come, especially after agreeing to six-year, $100 million contract with the Philadelphia Eagles on Tuesday.
It’s important to remember what Vick did to dogs. How he strangled them, drowned them and slammed at least one of their body’s into the ground when they failed to perform as well as he wanted them to in dog fights. That’s what got Vick 19 months in Leavenworth’s federal penitentiary and that’s why so many people – unimpressed by Vick’s remarkable athletic feats – will never forgive him.
But some people – perhaps most – have forgiven Vick. Since he was released from prison, he has said all the right things. He has expressed the proper contrition for his terrible deeds and appears to understand just how terrible they were. His shame doesn’t appear concocted.
Even when meeting with the media in Philadelphia on Wednesday, Vick was perfect in his oral presentation.
“It’s a lot of money, however you look at it,” Vick said. “Obviously, it’s going to create a lot of demands. I know what comes along with it, and I know how to handle it. But it’s not even about the money. It’s about the changes that have been made in my life. Kids have an opportunity to see that you should never count yourself out.”
But here’s the part of what Vick said that impresses me most:
“At the same time, don’t put yourself in a position where you’ve got to make a miraculous comeback. That’s not what it’s about.”
Those of us who haven’t fully embraced Vick yet cite not only his heinous crimes, but the lifestyle that produced those crimes. Vick, richer than he could have ever imagined because of football, flaunted his wealth in unhealthy ways. He attracted the wrong crowd, perhaps even encouraged those people to be in his camp.
Has he, in fact, changed his lifestyle to the point where the old ways will never tempt him?
We can’t know that. We can only ingest what we’re given and attempt to draw a conclusion. Those of us with open minds do that. Those who decided they would never forgive Vick – and I understand and even applaud that sentiment – have turned off the Vick spigot. He is out of their lives forever.
I find myself giving Vick a second chance. And I wonder if I would be doing the same if his name were Michael Vickers and he lived down the block. We talk so much in America about the willingness of people to forgive but we seem more willing to do so with a celebrity or outstanding athlete, people who are in the public eye.
It’s undoubtedly helps Vick that he has come back bigger, faster and with more passing accuracy than he had before his 19-month prison sentence. We have to blink our eyes at times to believe what we’re seeing from Vick, who spent a season as Philly’s backup before taking over as the starter in 2010.
The Eagles are a fashionable pick to win the Super Bowl this season because of several recent post-lockout acquisitions. But they wouldn’t be getting such accolades if it weren’t for Vick, who at times last season was the most dynamic player anyone had ever seen.
Hard to believe it was the same guy who was so erratic during his six seasons in Atlanta, which included two Pro Bowls and a whole bunch of head shaking because of questionable decision-making and just so-so accuracy.
Vick was often out of control on the field, so it’s not all that surprising that his life away from football was so sinister. Like so many young athletes who come from next to nothing, he had to have been overwhelmed by his sudden wealth and fame. Along with it came an air of invincibility, a feeling that he could do anything he pleased without fear of repercussion.
Killing dogs – dogs that he trained to fight – was outside of his perspective. I question whether he even knew what he was doing was wrong.
Which doesn’t make it right. Or even tolerable. Vick ultimately got what he deserved. The sentence, in this case, fit the crime. But that’s the tangible sentence. There is a part of Vick’s punishment that is hard to quantify. He can never win back the people who have abandoned him. There are only a percentage of us willing to forgive him.
We do with trepidation. We wonder whether throwing $100 million at this man is wise, given what he has done with his wealth in the past.
In the end, though, we have Vick’s words. And his demeanor. Both are impressive enough to make some of us accept him back and hope his story has a positive ending.
Plus – and we wouldn’t be honest if we didn’t admit this – it’s a lot of fun to watch Vick play football. He’s one of the most exciting players in NFL history.
To those who will never be tempted to watch Vick play again, I understand. More power to you.
But I will watch. And continue to forgive. And, lastly, cross my fingers.