Friday, August 21, 2009
It was one week ago that the Philadelphia sports scene was thrown into a tizzy when the Eagles stole the headlines from the world champion Phillies, not with their efforts on the field in their first exhibition game, but off the field with the signing of quarterback Michael Vick.
For anyone who has been living in a cave during this past week, let's catch you up on the Vick story.
He first burst on to the scene a decade ago when as a freshman quarterback at Virginia Tech he finished 3rd in the Heisman Trophy balloting. Following his sophomore college season he was selected by the Atlanta Falcons with the first overall pick in the 2001 NFL Draft. Over the next six seasons, Vick grew into one of the most dangerous rushing quarterbacks in NFL history, and took the Falcons to the playoffs twice.
Vick became a major sports celebrity for his on-field excitement, but it was something that he was involved with off the field that would define the last few years. It came to light that Vick was not only involved directly in, but was also the financial backer for a major dogfighting operation. The losing dogs in the already vicious fights would usually be tortured and/or executed, often by brutal methods. Vick took an active role in this illegal and immoral activity.
In August of 2007, Vick plead guilty to federal charges that had been brought against him for the dogfighting operation. He was suspended indefinitely by the NFL. He was sued by the Falcons, and a court eventually ruled that he had to repay $20 million dollars in bonus money, some of which Vick had used to help finance the dogfighting. He went on to serve a year and a half in prison, then another couple of months under house arrest, and has filed for bankruptcy.
So a week ago when the Eagles announced the signing of Michael Vick, it wasn't only an announcement of the signing of a new player, but it was an announcement of the signing of a man who had become a social pariah in recent years. A man who was considered by many to be an outcast from society. Cruel, sadistic, manipulative, and even downright evil.
This was a surprise on a number of counts. First, the talks between Vick and various members of the Eagles operation had been going on for days, perhaps even weeks, with no one in the media having even a hint that it was happening. And second, the Birds have always been considered one of the NFL's more squeaky clean organizations, with coach Andy Reid in particular as one who did not tolerate bad behavior from players.
Fan and media reaction was immediate and intense. There were cries from fans stating that they would never again support the team. There were charges from radio talking heads that the Eagles had "gone crazy" and that the team was "forcing this on the fans" who now had to choose between loyalty to their longtime beloved team and their own moral convictions.
However, these were just a little more than half of the fan base speaking. About half of the people questioned on the subject believed that Vick deserved, in the spirit that everyone deserves, a second chance. This was my initial reaction, but I wanted to wait a little while until things settled down, and I had an opportunity to listen to others and also assess my own feelings a little more deeply.
For anyone who cares, here is how I see the Michael Vick situation.
I think that every person does indeed deserve that second chance, an opportunity to redeem themselves after a fall. I have personally committed actions during my own lifetime for which I have asked for and received that second chance. In fact, when examining your own lives, every single person reading this has needed or wanted a second chance at some point.
Now, having said that everyone deserves one, does that include Michael Vick? Of course it does. In saying that Vick deserves a second chance, does that mean that what he did wasn't heinous? Of course not, it most certainly was. Does it mean that I think what he did was right? Obviously not. Does it mean that we simply wipe the slate fully clean and forget what happened? Can't be done.
Does it mean that he gets away with it? Of course not, Vick served real prison time, lost a financial fortune, lost his personal and professional reputation. His name is now "Mudd" in as strong a way as anyone who has ever worn that label. Face it, Michael Vick has paid a price for what he did. What some people still need to reconcile with is how much punishment is enough, and are there some things in which he should never again participate?
Don't try to sell me on the worn-out idea that pro athletes are supposed to be 'role models' in any way. A role model is supposed to be someone who you look up to, on whom you may even try to pattern your own life direction, who provides you with inspiration. As responsible parents, we should be directing our children towards appropriate role models, not allowing them to drift towards slackers and criminals.
Now it's possible, likely even, that Michael Vick may indeed have become a role model for some youth of America due to his early career exploits and style. These young people likely would have had no idea of his off-field problematic behaviors, they just loved the player that they saw every Sunday on the field. For these individuals, the ultimate negative situations that Vick found himself in have valuable lessons that can be learned.
I believe that ultimately it is too important an idea to surrender, that idea of recovery, of restitution, of rehabilitation, of revival. I also believe that punishments should fit the crime, and in relation to this incident, I believe that a dog's life is not as important as a human beings life. I own a dog. I really enjoy my dog. He has been a major part of our home life for the past decade. But he is simply not as important as my wife, or my kids, or my grand kids. Period.
To me, that bottom line difference means that a man should not be sent to jail for life, or be executed, for a crime such as that committed by Michael Vick. I think that all of the punishment that he has been through already fits his particular crime.
So now it comes down to a pair of questions: should Vick be allowed to return to pro football, and if so, should the Philadelphia Eagles be the team that signs him? To the first I say that he should be allowed to return. His crime was not against football directly. He did not bet on the game, or throw the outcome of a game. He is not the first NFL player to spend time in jail and then return to the league.
An electrician, or a plumber, or a lawyer, or a politician would expect to return to work following a drunk driving episode. It happens every day. Vick is a pro football player, he should have the opportunity to return to his profession, if he will be allowed to do so by the league, and if a team will have him.
For any number of reasons, the Philadelphia Eagles decided to give him an opportunity with their organization. For my money from his perspective, there probably is not a better team that he could have that opportunity with than the Birds. He can be mentored, on and off the field, by a true leader in Donovan McNabb. He will be held accountable from here on out by an owner in Jeffrey Lurie and a coach in Andy Reid who will accept no slip ups, and who in fact will expect not only his best behavior, but also will watch for his acts of restitution.
I am a Philadelphia Eagles fan, and I will obviously remain one. I don't see me being 'forced' into anything by the team. I can support them or not, on various levels with my time and money. I choose to support them. I don't believe that Michael Vick will get a ton of opportunities as the team's quarterback, so I believe that the chance that I will have to root for him directly is small. If that time should indeed come, I will root for and cheer the result of any play that helps the Eagles win their games.
And as for Michael Vick, I will hope that he turns his life around. I hope that he truly grows to fully understand the depth of how wrong his previous actions were. I hope that he does everything in his power and then some to make amends to the community of his fellow man by donating time, money, and publicity towards the humane treatment of pets with the SPCA, the Humane Society, and other similar groups. And I hope that from this point forward he commits no further crimes or acts of cruelty.
If he should fail in some way, especially publicly, it will be he who is lessened for that failure, not us for giving him a chance. As a human being who has sinned and fallen and paid a large penalty, he deserves that second chance in my opinion, and I for one am glad that it was my Philadelphia Eagles who are giving it to him.