Michael Vick has gone from the next big NFL superstar to inmate 33765-183 to who many thought was an MVP candidate heading into week 16. Vick’s story is about the public’s ability to forgive or to use it’s short-term memory. It’s one man’s ability to change or to lie; paying one’s debt to society or getting away with murder. It’s about loaded words like redemption, fame, or trust.
Michael Vick Story
The Vick paradox is simple: You can’t look away from the beauty, and you can’t quite forget the brutality. His game is majestic and after watching him this past season, it’s hard to imagine how good he can become. People speak of being conflicted about watching Vick; hating his crime, but loving his game, as if the two cannot be separated. They can’t. Think about it. Did the vile acts that Vick commit, which lead to his imprisonment, make Vick the player that he is now? For Vick to touch greatness, did dogs have to die?
As long as Michael Vick continues to be in the public eye, those questions won’t go away.
Has he changed?
That was the question when Vick was released from Leavenworth and into house arrest in May 2009. Shortly before his release, Tony Dungy, who had agreed to mentor Vick, met with him in prison for three hours. Vick told Dungy that he wanted to be a good father for his children and a better man for everyone who saw him as an idol. He also told Dungy that he planned to work hard on and off the football field, to maximize his talent. Later that spring, Eagles head coach Andy Reid called Dungy. “Do you think he is heading in the right direction?” Reid asked, “Do you think his heart’s right?” Dungy told him, “Andy, I really think so.”
Andy Reid knew how important it was to give young people a second chance. His sons, Garrett and Britt, had been battling drug problems for years and Andy would spend every Tuesday for two years visiting them in prison. He’d seen the cons. He’d also seen others sincerely willing to change but often met with coolness or hostility. Garrett and Britt, though, were given jobs, support from other families. Reid’s eyes still well up in gratitude. “I know what it’s like to have young people who make mistakes and feel they’ve changed, and no one gives them a chance,” Reid told Dungy. I don’t want to be that way. If that guy has changed and is looking for a second chance, I want to do it.”
As the 2010 off-season unrolled, one key figure wasn’t convinced that he had changed: Vick’s mother, Brenda. Vick began making the rounds near his house in Virginia, staying out late, hosting parties with Marcus (his brother), putting himself out there where faces from his darker days could emerge. “She told us to stop having parties in February of 2010. Kept doing it. Kept doing it. Kept doing it. Kept getting by, kept getting by, kept getting by, doin’ them quietly. Then: boom.”
With Vick’s birthday approaching, Brenda (Michael’s mom) and Kijafa (his girlfriend) decided to throw a surprise, invitation-only birthday party. Instead Vick decided to back his brother’s bid to host an “All White 30th Birthday Bash” at $50 a head, announced through Twitter.
Vick and Kijafa, the mother of two of his daughters, arrived at the Guadalajara restaurant in Virginia Beach. The plan was to have a few drinks, sing Happy Birthday, and leave. But when Kajafa thought it’d be cute to smear cake on Vick’s face, Vick’s temper flared. Quanis Phillips, Vick’s co-defendant in the dog-fighting case grabbed some cake and shoved some in Vick’s face as well.
After a few minutes of heated words, Vick grabbed Kijafa and drove off. 15 minutes later, he received a phone call saying that Phillips had been shot, two minutes after Vick’s departure. Kijafa burst into tears. Vick called his lawyer. The couple barely slept.
The next day, Vick had to face kids at a football camp that he was hosting at Hampton University. He told the kids to live the right way. Burning with shame heading in and out of camp, he cried. Vick steeled himself to call Reid, whose explosion left him blistered: “You shouldn’t have been in that environment… You shouldn’t have been out after 12…I don’t know where this is going to go.” Vick then dialed Dungy but lasted only five seconds before hanging up in tears. The next call? It should have been Roger Godell. Vick didn’t dare.
“I should have been man enough to pick up the phone and say I’m sorry. But I was tired of saing I’m sorry-to everybody. You know? It was old. Look: no more excuses for anything. That was a bad situation. Somebody got shot. And I’m just getting out of prison; I’m still on probation; I just got reinstated into the NFL; and this is my first off-season-and this happened? I was ready to deal with whatever consequences I had to deal with, man. Because I was just ashamed, and I knew I was wrong.”
Then came his mom, the worst, laying into Marcus and Michael.
“I’m sitting on the chair crying, looking all crazy in the face,” Vick says. “My brother, he’s sitting there, he ain’t got no expression on his face because he ain’t going through what I’m going through. I’m going through something totally different: I know what I want in life. I’m sure he does to, but I love the game of football. I know what I can do on the field and what I can provide for a team. That’s where my heart’s at, and it would’ve killed me to have that taken away. And I could just see in her face, she was tired. She told us it was embarrassing. She wanted to disown us. That’s what she told me: She wanted to walk away. She’s like, ‘You went to prison for 19 months, and you scome out and you still ain’t listening…”
“Right then and there I told myself, I am changing my life. I’m going to do everything they ask me to do. I’m getting myself away from this madness.”
Many people credit Vick’s improvement this year to his increased time in the film room, extended workouts and extra sessions with Marty Mornhinweg. None of it might have happened had Phillips been shot in the leg and Vick’s probation officer, the day after Vick’s birthday, ordered him to cut all ties to Virginia and relocate to Philadelphia.
Has he changed?
That’s the question still haunting Vick now.
Jason Avant, a wide receiver on the Eagles, says of Vick, “The Bible says, ‘The righteous man falls seven times, but he gets up again.’ He’s getting up and trying, and it’s helping him and helping our team. Guys look at him not as a quarterback; we look at him as an inspiration. We look at him as a guy who has been through hell and back-and he’s conquered it.’
Vick won’t go that far. He’s no longer the kid that thinks he can get away with anything, on or off the field. Friends say he seems ‘free’ for the first time, unburned by distractions of hangers-on and activities he couldn’t resist, but there’s also liberation that comes when the worst as come and gone. The world knows everything Vick has done, yet he’s still alive and admired. But he reminds himself that he’s just one misstep away from losing it all.
“Every day is a challenge,” Vick told SI. “Still. Right now. And it will probably be that way next year and the year after. So nothing is going to change. That mean’s that I’ve got to change.”
Can Vick stay out of trouble. The better Vick does, the higher the stakes. The more fans believe. The more cynics say it is a con. The more viewers find themselves forced to take a stand, to comb through questions about race or justice or, God knows, the mystery of human nature. “You hope,” Vick says, and maybe it’s just a figure of speech. But it’s true. We, watching, are part of it. The longer it continues, the better it gets, the more the Michael Vick story becomes about us.