A lot at stake for NFL and Eagles in Michael Vick's comeback
The disgraced football star did prison time for animal cruelty. Will the fans accept his contrition?
Chances are Mike Vick won't ever be able to live down the events at Bad Newz Kennels, the dogfighting ring that landed the NFL's highest-paid player in federal prison for 18 months, nearly ruining his career.Skip to next paragraph
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But, in fact, it's Mr. Vick's decision to remember the cruel legacy of 1915 Moonlight Road in rural Virginia that explains his return yesterday to the league, and why the Philadelphia Eagles had to compete with nearly a dozen other teams to sign the electric ball player.
Even if some of his contrition is calculated, Vick has had to convince NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, his fellow players and, now, the Eagles headcoach Andy Reid, how his unique insights into animal cruelty can be used to help urban kids understand why dogfighting is wrong.
To be sure, some Americans likely won't forgive or forget what the former Atlanta Falcons quarterback did. He was convicted in 2007 on charges that included strangling dogs that didn't show enough promise in the ring. He spent 18 months of a 23-month sentence at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary in Kansas. Despite once being the highest-paid player in the league, Vick has declared bankruptcy.
"These days there's always a sliding scale of what's acceptable behavior based on the upside," says David Carter, director of the Sports Business Institute in Los Angeles. "But Vick is different. He hasn't played for quite some time, and the uniqueness of the fan backlash is something the sports industry has not seen before. There's nothing that has brought with it the kind of passionate resistance [that Vick's actions have]. A lot of fans are going to boo until their throats are sore."
To get here, Vick has relied first and foremost on the trust and goodwill of Commissioner Goodell, who sent former Baltimore Colts coach Tony Dungy to Leavenworth to talk with Vick this spring and gauge his contrition. After a two-hour interview, Dungy came away impressed.
Dungy, a devout Christian, says Vick told him that he had strayed from God after working his way to becoming the NFL's best paid player. In prison, Vick told Dungy, he realized he needed to bring his faith back. At the meeting, Vick seemed stripped of the brash arrogance he had often displayed as a player, once giving a rude hand gesture to Atlanta fans after a disappointing home loss.