By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report
Now that Michael Vick has finally found a home with the Philadelphia Eagles, the hard part for the former Atlanta Falcons quarterback is his long, possibly tumultuous road to redemption in the face of a hostile fan base that is not so willing to forgive him for his participation in dogfighting.
Even though Vick paid his debt to society by serving 18 of a 23-month prison sentence in a federal penitentiary and losing millions of dollars in salary and endorsements, he has no illusions that fans are going to welcome him here with open arms. For him, the process of moving forward could be a long, grinding process.
A good example of that was outside the Eagles Nova Care practice facility last Friday during Vick’s press conference, protesters, including some accompanied with dogs, held signs protesting the Birds choice to sign Vick. One sign read, “Hide your beagle, Vick’s an Eagle.”
On local talk radio, the viewpoints seemed to be divided along racial lines with African-Americans saying that Vick deserves a second chance while white listeners were saying that Vick’s acts of cruelty to animals were so heinous that forgiveness is out of the question. One local radio host even suggested that Vick stay away from children.
When Vick takes the field in the Eagles third exhibition game and for that matter throughout the season, he will no doubt hear a crescendo of boos and fans will wave signs branding him as a dog killer whether he’s at Lincoln Financial Field or Fed-Ex Field in Washington. Outside of the ball parks, you will probably see groups like PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals) carrying signs branding Vick as a murderer of dogs.
Vick said he understood why fans might have a hard time of getting past his crime of killing and torturing dogs. He said the only way he can prove himself to fans that he has true remorse for what he has done is by getting involved in the animal rights movement through groups like the Humane Society.
“I was wrong for what I did, everything that happened at the point in my life was wrong. It was unnecessary,” Vick said during his press conference last Friday. “For the life of me, I can’t understand to this day why I was involved in such a pointless activity and why I risked so much at the pinnacle of my career. But I figure if I can help more animals than I hurt, then I’m contributing and doing my part.”
Meanwhile, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie made it clear that Vick’s time with the Eagles will be judged by his actions off the field even more so than what he does on the field.
“Frankly, the legend of Michael Vick will be determined, as we go forward, it won’t be determined on the field of football,” Lurie said. “He will never be able to recover from what he criminally and murderously took part in, but he has an opportunity to create a legend where maybe he can be a force at stopping the horrendous cruelty to animals in dogfighting.”
Lurie said the move to bring Vick to the Eagles required a lot of soul searching on his part because he himself is a dog-lover and was appalled at Vick’s behavior. He described the move to bring the former Virginia Tech star as “counter intuitive” to what he believes in as an owner. Another way of saying it was that this move was against his better judgment.
But Lurie said he met with Vick extensively to gauge his level of remorse and said after meeting with Vick that while he was satisfied that the left-handed quarterback has shown remorse for his actions, he still has a long way to revamp his image.
“In spending the time with Michael, I think he deserves that opportunity,” Lurie said. “He’s going to have to prove it in action and not in words. I can only read his eyes so much. I can only read his emotions so much and the words. He’s going to have to prove to Philadelphia, to the United States, to the National Football League, to human beings and to animals everywhere that he’s committed as he said to me and publicly, to save more animals than he’s responsible for eliminating.”
Lurie said one of the principle people, along with head coach Andy Reid and NFL Commissioner Roger Goddell responsible for convincing him to give Vick a second chance with the Eagles was former Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy, who was Vick’s mentor and spiritual advisor throughout this process of reinstatement.
Dungy said he prepared Vick for the possibility of not only the reaction to his return, but also for the chance that he may not get the opportunity to play in the NFL at all.
“We talked a lot of about the fact that he may not get a chance. It was never a given for me that he would get another chance in the NFL, so what happens if you don’t how are you going to be out in the community and proactive even if you’re not playing this year,” Dungy said. “There are going to be people that are going to be skeptical, some people aren’t going to forgive you. We’ve had a lot of those conversations.”
Dungy said he would be available to Vick throughout the course of the season and during the process of healing his image and reputation with the general public.
Even before Vick was released from prison, he had agreed to work with the Humane Society of the United States on their anti-dog fighting campaigns, which will include working on programs that prevent dogfighting and working young people who have been involved in dogfighting in urban areas. Wayne Pacelle, the president of the Humane Society met with Vick back in May while he was still in prison in Leavenworth, Kan. He said he’s willing to work with Vick and thinks he would be a powerful ally in the cause of stopping dogfighting.
“Sometimes folks who are reformed can be strong advocates,” Pacelle told the Associated Press. “We need to be creative in addressing that problem, and Mike may be able to help us. We agree he’s got to his boots and hit the issue hard and do it over a long time.”
And so now that he’s wearing an Eagles uniform and after all the rhetoric from press conferences have died down, everything will be on Vick’s shoulders from this point forward to not only make a difference on the field as a football player, but to redeem himself from an unspeakable act.
“I think my actions will speak louder than my words. To be proactive and to be involved in the community, people will see that in due time,” Vick said. “I’ve partnered up with the Humane Society and we’ve constantly been working hard to reach out to certain inner cities and certain communities to make sure that we attack the problem.”