Former Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick has been conditionally reinstated to the National Football League and signed recently with the Philadelphia Eagles.
What will happen to Vick in his quest to play professional football again? Should we care about a jock that threw away a 10-year, $130 million contract by getting himself convicted for involvement in an interstate dog fighting ring? The Eagles are giving Vick a second chance. Should fans give Vick a chance to redeem himself?
Because I detest Vick’s kind of swaggering, arrogant, self-absorbed athlete, I did not think about the disgraced quarterback and his post-Leavenworth troubles until readers sent e-mails asking me to comment — and the Rev. Jesse Jackson caused a media uproar (again) when he suggested similarities between Vick’s plight and that of baseball legend Jackie Robinson.
In fairness, however, I believe that Vick deserves a second chance to play NFL football. The young man has paid his legal debt to society, serving his time in federal prison and expressing remorse. I must acknowledge that my opinion is influenced by the faith Super Bowl-winning coach Tony Dungy has in Vick. Dungy has spent more time with Vick than ordinary detractors who want the former star banished to a virtual leper colony.
While announcing his conditional reinstatement of Vick, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell told him: “I urge you to take full advantage of the resources available to support you and to dedicate yourself to rebuilding your life and your career. If you do this, the NFL will support you.”
One of those resources is Dungy. As a condition for full reinstatement, Vick had to accept Dungy as a mentor. Goodell could not have picked a better person to help Vick get on the road to redemption and to become a role model for other athletes of similar background and temperament. During his 28 years as a coach, Dungy showed that he is an excellent judge of character. Without the obligatory screaming and profanity of the trade, he molded several of the league’s “bad boys” into loyal team players and law-abiding citizens off the field.
Dungy also works with high school students and prison inmates, stressing — with his own life as an example — the importance of personal responsibility and intelligent decisions.
Shortly after visiting Vick in prison in May, Dungy wrote an article for Sports Illustrated commenting on the encounter with the inmate, on Vick’s lack of wholesome parenting as a child and on his hopes for the young man: “I’m concerned about Michael Vick’s life, not his career. And Michael’s future, just like those of thousands of other inmates around the country, is worth saving. Michael certainly had the benefit of many support people in college and the NFL. But our decision-making processes are formed much earlier than that.
“I firmly believe Michael deserves a second chance in life. I understand how appalling dog fighting is, and in no way do I condone it. But he was given a punishment that the court deemed appropriate, and now he exits prison having paid for that crime. It’s time to let him bounce back after that loss. If we are willing to forgive Michael and take an honest look at the person who is leaving that prison, we might be surprised at what we see. We might see a man who says ’I’m sorry’ with his actions and not just his words. We might see a man who wants to get back to his three children and stop the cycle of young people growing up without a father to help them.
“Least important, we might see him play football again. I’m not sure of the Michael Vick we would see on the field, but I believe we would see a very different person off the field.”
Bill Maxwell is a columnist for the St. Petersburg Times.