If you’re a sports fan, or live above ground, you probably know the story of the NFL quarterback, Michael Vick, who was thrown out of the NFL a few years ago and sent to United States Penitentiary, Leavenworth for breeding, fighting, and ultimately killing dogs. I was not familiar with the details of Vick’s story until after last Monday night’s football game when Vick played what some consider to be the best game played by a quarterback in NFL history
When the Atlanta Falcons first signed him, Vick was the most highly paid player in the NFL. He was described as ‘electrifying.’ His ten-year contract was worth $130 million dollars.
The guy could throw, and the guy could run. I mean he could really throw, and he could really run. When you see footage of his running game, you feel sorry for the defensive team. Vick could outmaneuver half a dozen guys like the Roadrunner could outmaneuver Wiley Coyote, a pile of dynamite, a shotgun, and an avalanche. Vick made his opponents look like they were on drugs. With his wild life-style, and his showing-up-last and leaving-first attitude towards practice, you could imagine some people might have wished the cocky s.o.b. would be brought down.
But, like in a Shakespearean Tragedy, it was Vick who brought himself down.
Dog fighting, of all things. Beating dogs. Electrocuting dogs. Shooting dogs. Eight dogs were found buried on Vick’s farm in Virginia where he ran a dog-fighting operation. Some dogs had been hung. Some had been drowned after surviving being hung. It was bad.
His fans, his family, his team, and the league were shocked and outraged.
People said he was a psychopath, a freak, a sick savage.
“My whole life was a lie,” Vick would say later.
He was thrown out of the NFL. He lost his contract. He went bankrupt. He sat in Leavenworth prison for two years.
But he came back. After spending two years in prison and losing everything he had, Michael Vick worked his way back into society. He became a spokesman for the Humane Society. He repeatedly accepted responsibility for what he had done, and said he was sorry. He was given a second chance. He was signed by the Philadelphia Eagles, and last Monday night Michael Vick quarterbacked a fifty-nine-point game that started with him throwing an 88-yard touchdown pass on the first play.
“Whom do you blame for all this?” he was asked on Sixty Minutes after he got out of prison.
“I blame myself,” he said.
In prison, he said he felt shame, guilt, and he said he cried.
“You cried?” he was asked. “Yes,” Vick answered. “I cried. For what I did to those animals, for what I did to my family. I let them down…when I think about it…it sickens me to my stomach.”
When asked if it was losing his contract and being thrown out of the NFL that he was most sorry for, Vick responded, “I deserved to lose everything. I lied to everybody. I was a living example of what not to do.”
In another interview, his former head coach, Jim Mora, asked him, “Did I miss something? Was there something I could have done?”
Vick shook his head and answered, “No. The best thing for me…crazy as it may seem, was getting shipped off to Kansas [to prison]. I wasn’t going to change. My mom tried…Nobody could have done anything to change my situation, except the Man upstairs, who was seeing it and said, “Listen, before this goes any further, I’m going to have to take all of this away from you for awhile. And you’re going to have to get your priorities in order, but you gonna have to sit over there [in prison] to get it done. And that’s what happened.”
On Monday night, November 14, 2010, Michael Vick played one of the best games in NFL history. I, for one, hope Vick is telling the truth, and that he really learned his lesson, and that he is truly sorry for the savagery he showed those dogs, and for his other crimes and mistakes.
Though he had seen his first dog-fight when he was eight years old, Vick said, “I was twenty-five, twenty-six years old at the time, a man, old enough to be responsible for my decisions.”
I want to give him the benefit of the doubt. I want to believe that his outer game is a reflection of his inner game, that the Michael Vick we saw on the field Monday night was proof of the man inside. I want to believe in second chances, and third chances.
We could sit here and debate what’s really going on inside Vick’s head. Is he really sorry? Does he get it? Has he changed?
As the saying goes, only God, and maybe Vick’s hairdresser, knows for sure.
I want to believe the guy, because that way I can learn from him.
You’re given amazing gifts in this life, no matter who you are. Do not take them for granted.
Take responsibility. If you make a mistake, own it, but don’t kill yourself over it. Even if it takes you a few tries to get it right.
Learn from your mistakes. Like Vick, you can make your biggest mistake the biggest learning experience of your life.
Learn, don’t wank. “I deserved to have it all taken away from me.”
Get real. “My whole life was a lie.”
Work with what you’ve got. A few years spent in the slammer is not the best way to become the best quarterback in the NFL, except in Vick’s case, it was.
When you’re knocked down, especially by your own actions, get up.
Be honest. Be vulnerable. Go deep.
Look for the bigger picture. Find the meaning and the lesson in what happened.
And be grateful.
Vick looks like a new man. His game is better than ever. He’s got a family. He’s working hard. The leeches, who were supposed to be his friends, are gone, so are the wild parties. On Sixty Minutes, Vick said he ‘cried’. This is the same guy who a few years ago was getting his rocks off watching dogs killing each other. Vick chose to see what had happened to him as being much bigger and much more important than the $130 million dollars he lost and the two years he spent in jail. He chose to learn and find meaning from what happened.
Time will tell if this is the real Michael Vick. I hope so, because I want to keep watching the guy. I want to keep learning from him. Damn, if Michael Vick keeps it together he may even turn me into a football fan.