by Walter Brasch
PHILADELPHIA, Aug. 28–The crowd at Lincoln Field gave superstar quarterback/convicted felon Michael Vick a standing ovation when he entered the game on the second play against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
On his first play for the Philadelphia Eagles, Vick tossed an easy shovel pass for a four yard gain. “It was unbelievable the way I was embraced and the warm welcome I received,” Vick told the Associated Press after the game.
In his other five plays, Vick completed three passes and rushed for a yard. Fans didn’t even boo him when a lateral was mishandled and led to a Jaguars touchdown.
Although there had been heated discussions, especially on talk radio the previous two weeks, outside the stadium were only a few protestors. Most fans told each other, their bartenders, and any reporters within a hundred yard radius they were pleased that with Vick, once the NFL’s highest paid player when he was with the Atlanta Falcons but now a possible back-up quarterback to All-Pro Donovan McNabb, the Eagles could finally win the Super Bowl.
As for Vick’s federal conviction on charges of running an illegal interstate dog fighting operation, of providing the financing not only for the operation but also for extensive gambling as well, of involvement with illegal drugs, and with knowing, condoning, and the probability that he was directly involved in the abuse, torture, and murder of dogs, the fans enthusiastically explained that Vick completed his federal prison term, was “redeemed,” and deserved a second chance, especially if it meant-yeah-a Super Bowl championship.
These are the same fans who probably wouldn’t have embraced Vick if he was a second-string offensive guard who would never be an All-Pro. These are the same fans who once booed and threw snowballs at Santa during a half-time show. These are the fans who cheered when Dallas Cowboys’ receiver Michael Irvin went to the ground for 20 minutes in 1999 with what proved to be a career-ending cervical spinal cord injury. These are the fans whose actions during games led the Philadelphia Municipal Court to put a jail and courtroom into Veterans Stadium in 1997. Eagles Court was terminated six seasons later only when Lincoln Field, with an extensive security system, replaced the Vet.
Michael Vick never saw Eagles Court, but in the U.S. District Court, Judge Henry Hudson said not only did Vick not cooperate fully with federal officials, as he promised, but that he failed both a drug test and a polygraph about what happened at Bad Newz Kennels and had not yet accepted full responsibility for “promoting, funding and facilitating this cruel and inhumane sporting activity.” Football Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Vick indefinitely.
At Leavenworth, where he completed 18 of his 20-month sentence, Vick claimed he realized the error of his ways and had found Jesus. But, the Atlanta Falcons didn’t want Vick back; most NFL teams also didn’t want him. The Eagles embraced him. For his part, Roger Goodell said if Vick showed remorse, he would allow him to play in the Eagles’ last two pre-season games, and would rule on Vick’s permanent reinstatement by the sixth game of the regular season.
Professionals convicted of similar felonies, even if not directly related to their jobs, probably will not only lose their license but would have to wait far longer than six months after leaving prison to get it restored. Journalists who commit plagiarism, even if never sued or convicted, seldom get a second chance. Firefighters who commit arson and police officers convicted of taking bribes usually don’t get second chances. And, much of society has no compassion and won’t give a second chance to someone who was laid off, had significant medical bills, loses her house, becomes homeless, and must steal food. Even some athletes who did far less than Michael Vick don’t get a second chance. Pete Rose, who should be in baseball’s Hall of Fame, has a lifetime ban for having bet on sports, although there was no evidence that he neither bet against his team nor fixed a game.
Nevertheless, count on Michael Vick being very remorseful for at least a few months, especially if he wants to collect all of his $1.6 million first season salary and a $5.2 million salary for the second season.
At a press conference in August, Vick said he had “committed an act that was cruel and unethical and inhumane.” On CBS-TV’s “60 Minutes” later that month, he said, he felt a “tremendous hurt behind what happened. And, you know, I should’ve took the initiative to stop it all. And I didn’t. And I feel so bad about that now. And I know that I didn’t. I didn’t step up. I wasn’t a leader.” It’s possible that Michael Vick is sincere, that he wishes to atone for what he did to others and to the animals that can not speak for themselves.
Vick says he grew up in a culture that condoned dog fighting, with its brutality, gambling, and drugs. Lying, stealing, and running small cons were all part of his life. Apparently, he had no filters, nothing to tell him that what he was doing was not only illegal but immoral as well; however, others who grew up in that culture didn’t commit the crimes, even as juveniles, Vick did as an adult. Michael Vick could very well be a great actor, able to say the right things, with the right facial inflections to convince people he is remorseful and sincere, traits he may have developed over the first 27 years of his life. Whatever is in a person’s soul that permits him to torture and murder animals doesn’t quickly disappear because of a prison sentence and the public remorse that will lead to a job that may again make him a multi-millionaire.
[Walter M. Brasch-a former sports writer, sports editor, and public affairs/investigative reporter- is a university professor of journalism, social issues columnist, and the author of 17 books. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his website, www.walterbrasch.com]