Michael Vick was born in Newport News, Virginia on June 26, 1980. Growing up, Newport News did not provide the safest and healthiest environment for Vick, or any child for that matter. It was a rough and tumble place that produced gang members and drug dealers, not top-notch professional athletes. The choice to stay local for college may have had a bad influence on Vick and his extracurricular activities. Growing up as a prominent athlete in Newport News wasn’t necessarily a good thing. Another local athlete, Allen Iverson, was always followed around by a troublesome posse that claimed to be his friends. They knew he would be rich and famous one day so they all tried to stick around him so they could eventually live off of his success. But as Newport News was known for its crime and gangs, trouble always seemed to follow Iverson. Vick would eventually deal with a similar problem. Had he gone to Syracuse, his ties with the “local thugs” in Newport News would likely have been snapped. However, it wouldn’t be until much later in his career that Vick’s association with these people would bite him in the rear, no pun intended.
Gambling is nothing new to this, or any other country. The activity of wagering bets on various sporting events has been around for hundreds of years. Traditional bets are placed on football, basketball, boxing and horseracing. But one of the most violent and cruel gambling “sports” is the underground gambling ring of dog fighting. While dog fighting is a form of entertainment and a venue for illegal gambling, it is also a means to create personal revenue. A person or group who run(s) a dog fighting ring often charge admission to fights, but also cash in breeding winning dogs. Dogs are often judged on their “gameness,” or willingness/desire to fight. As this is the most valuable trait in dog fighting dogs, the more game they have, the more money they will earn. This also trickles down to puppy litters. According to the ASPCA, the owner of any grand champion, a dog that has won at least five fights, can sell the dog's puppies for at least $1,500 each.
Dog fighting in North America is illegal. This poses a big problem for those involved in the sport, but an even bigger problem for organizations such as the ASPCA and PETA. These dog fighting rings are hard to find. Invitations to them are top secret and with little or no warning. One of the most brutal aspects of this “sport” is how owners train their dogs to fight. The dogs are abused, starved, often times tied up with extremely heavy chains and beaten. This abuse is used to toughen the animals up and prepare them for fights. Another awful element of training these dogs is that owners and trainers will often roam neighborhoods and streets to steal dogs right out of homes and backyards. The trainer will then break one of the dogs legs or handicap it in some way so their fighting dog can train against a dog that will not harm them back. Such behavior is murder. It is barbaric. And organizations like PETA are doing everything they can to put it to a stop.
VICK AND THE DOGFIGHTING RING
Vick’s cousin, Davon Boodie, was arrested on suspicion of drug possession and ended up giving police the address to one of Vick’s properties in Smithfield, Va. When police searched the property on Moonlight Road, they found enough evidence to seek another warrant involving animal cruelty. It was then that Michael Vick was immediately tied to dog fighting, yet Vick decided to play the innocent card and blame his ignorance for not knowing such activities were going on at his household. He initially placed blame on the family members who lived in the house for what was found there. According to an article from Sports Illustrated, Vick said, “It’s unfortunate that I have to take the heat…lesson learned for me.”
However, the evidence against Vick, and/or, his “friends” was overwhelming. As police searched the property, they found unmistakable evidence of a professional dogfighting operation. Deep in the woods behind the house, there were five smaller buildings all painted pitch black in an effort to hide the operation as nearly all dogfights are held at night. There were scales, treadmills to exercise the dogs, “rape stands” which are devices that hold aggressive dogs in place in the breeding process, “break sticks” to pry open a dog’s jaws, syringes, as well as diuretics and nutritional supplements. Another building housed over 30 dogs, mostly pit bull terriers, as nearly another 30 were found outside on leashes that were tied to car axles buried in the ground. Months later, Vick and three other men were indicted on dogfighting charges for activity over a six year period. Vick signed a plea agreement and a statement of facts admitting to conspiracy in a dogfighting ring and helping kill pit bulls, according to ESPN.com. But Vick denied betting on the fights, only bankrolling them.
PETA AND PITBULLS
The treatment of dogs in these fighting rings is hard to describe and brutally painful to watch. The dogs are beaten and neglected during training. The dogs are then forced into a ring with another dog that may or may not kill it. And then the losing dogs are killed by their owners often minutes after the fight. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, is the largest animal rights organization in the world. PETA works through public education, research, animal rescue, legislation, protest campaigns, and in the case of Michael Vick, cruelty investigations. But as PETA studied the case and examined the dogs on Vick’s property, they believed that the saved dogs were beyond rehabilitation and that trying to save them would be both a waste of time and money. “The cruelty they’ve suffered is such that they can’t lead what any dog lover would consider a normal life,” said PETA spokesman Dan Shannon. “We feel that it’s better that they have their suffering ended once and for all.”
However, it turned out that 47 of the 51 dogs at Badnewz Kennels were rescued and brought to shelters for rehabilitation. With such an incredible number, the rescue teams credited the demeanor of the pit bull breed and downplayed the image that pit bulls have in society. Much of society is terrified of these dogs and sees them as vicious, mean and threatening. But the reality is that pit bulls are quite friendly. PETA’s stance on Michael Vick is currently in limbo. The organization teamed with Vick to film an anti-dogfighting public service announcement. Vick’s attorneys sought assurance from PETA that they would support Vick’s return to football if he filmed the PSA. However, their initial agreement broke down and PETA is asking Vick to submit a brain scan and full psychiatric evaluation before he be declared eligible to return to the NFL
WHERE IS MICHAEL VICK NOW?
After Michael Vick admitted to conspiracy in dog fighting, killing pit bulls and bankrolling fights, he began serving his sentence early and voluntarily entered prison on November 19, 2007. Vick started serving his time at the Northern Neck Regional Jail in Warsaw, Va. However, by early January of 2008, Vick was transferred to a minimum security prison in Leavenworth, Kansas. In an effort to reduce his 23-month sentence, Vick entered a drug treatment program at the Kansas prison. The program at the prison takes place in units set apart from the general prison population, lasting at least 500 hours over a six to 12 month period, according to Bureau of Prisons policy. As of February 2009, Vick’s lawyers expected Vick to be released to a halfway house in Newport News, Va. But as the move was being arranged, news broke that there was a lack of bed space at the halfway house in Virginia, which meant that Vick would be allowed to finish his sentence under home confinement at his 3,500-square-foot home in Hampton, Va. An anonymous official familiar with the case said that Vick would be allowed to make the move home on or after May 21, according to ESPN.com.
OTHER ATHLETES WHO HAVE FALLEN FROM GRACE
Arguably one of the most disappointing things in sports is wasted talent. From the four major sports (football, baseball, hockey, basketball), to lesser covered ones such as golf, boxing and NASCAR, prominent athletes have fallen from grace for one reason or another. Whether the athlete suffers from a drug or alcohol addiction, abuse, infidelity, violence or gambling, the sports world always seems to have a few current athletes that fall under the umbrella of “tremendous athlete, bad decision maker.” Michael Vick is currently wearing that shoe. However, athletes aren’t the only people in America that fit in this category. There have been plenty of politicians, actors, musicians and businesspersons that have made similar career-threatening mistakes. Bill Clinton, Clive Owen, Chris Brown and Martha Stewart have all done things to mar their careers and the public’s view of them. Some of these people have bounced back, even better than before; while others were never quite able to rebuild their image and earn back the trust of the American public. But as Michael Vick prepares to re-enter the real world and spark a comeback to the NFL, he should take note of what other fellow athletes did right, and what they did wrong in their attempted return to the sport they loved.
Every disgraced athlete tries to take the necessary steps to return their sport and regain the respect of their fans and peers. Some athletes have had great success, while others have failed miserably. It seems to be a case by case basis and largely depends on the individual’s image before their demise. Athletes like Mike Tyson could not return to their sport because of the negative reputation he had built for himself throughout his career. Kobe Bryant could return to his sport because of the positive All-American image he built for himself during the first six years of his career. And other athletes like Charles Barkley took a unique approach in their return to grace. Barkley simply said to the public, “I’m not a role model…Just because I dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.” And in a way, the public seems to appreciate Barkley’s honesty and forgive him when he gets into trouble. But in evaluating whether or not Michael Vick could potentially have a successful comeback to the NFL, you have to look beyond what other athletes have done and find out, specifically, if those in the NFL would welcome or tolerate his return.
In order to get a true feel for whether or not Vick would be welcomed back at each of these different levels, I spoke with an NFL spokesperson, the nephew of an NFL owner and a current NFL player.
Victor Abiamiri: Victor Abiamiri, 23, is an NFL player who plays defensive end for the Philadelphia Eagles. “I can see why some players are upset and would not want Vick as a teammate and in their locker room. It would bring a lot of unwanted attention and create a whole lot of drama,” said Abiamiri. He continued, “But I also understand the players who don’t have an issue with it. There is something to be said that they are Vick’s dogs and it is his property, so if that’s what he wants to do, do it.” But the overall question asked to Abiamiri was if he would welcome Vick as a teammate. And his response was simple. “He’s a hell of a player and everyone deserves a second chance,” said Abiamiri. “I’d welcome him happily.”
Sean Rooney: Sean Rooney is the nephew of Dan Rooney, the owner and chairman of the Pittsburgh Steelers. When asked if the Rooney family would ever consider signing Vick, Sean Rooney believed that his family would not be likely to do so, but it had nothing to do with Vick’s behavior. Rooney believed that his family would forgive Vick for his actions and give him a chance, as a person. But he worried about Vick’s ability on the field. “If you’re talking about possibly three years out of the game, I don’t know how he (Vick) could not be affected,” said Rooney. He continued, “Vick’s legs and speed have always been his go-to and his development as a thrower has been halted for quite some time. To me, it’s over.”
Michael Signora: Michael Signora is the director of media relations and international communications for the National Football League. Signora was very political with his response when asked whether or not he thought the NFL would reinstate Michael Vick after his jail time. “Michael Vick was suspended indefinitely by Commissioner Goodell in 2007. He has not yet applied for reinstatement and when he does, the commissioner will consider the matter at that time,” said Signora, NFL spokesman. But when asked to put on a PR hat, Signora noted how a team should handle Vick’s return and pending backlash from the public. “They will certainly give thought to what message needs to be conveyed as an organization and who is the best person in the organization to convey that message,” said Signora. “This will likely be done in conjunction with the player and the message he will deliver when and if the time comes.”
VICK’S STEPS TO A COMEBACK
In evaluating other fallen athlete’s attempted returns to their sport, Michael Vick can learn some things from his peers in an effort to better his chances of a successful return to football. In heeding the advice and following the path of these other athletes, Vick can start to construct a plan to convince the NFL to reinstate him and convince a team to give him a chance. NFL owners, NFL representatives and other NFL players all seem to have different views on the situation and share different sentiments in regards to Vick as a player and person. But if Vick employs a simple 3-step process, he can restore his image on the way to his triumphant comeback to the NFL. If Vick can recover from his wrongdoings, rebuild his superstar image and return with grace and humility, he just might make it.
Recover: Vick has already started taking the necessary steps to recover from his mistakes. He admitted his wrongdoings and issued many apologies to his team, the NFL, his family and fans. The audience that was most hurt from Vick’s behavior was the young children who looked up to him as a hero. He has personally apologized to that audience and must to continue to do so once his sentence is up.
Based on other athletes who have been in a similar situation, Vick must recover as a person before he recovers as an athlete. In order to make changes and start fresh, Vick must start with himself. Throughout this process, Vick has said that he has found Jesus and has built a strong faith that has allowed him to forgive himself and his actions. And the hope is that his personal forgiveness has been an ongoing process for the past two years. Because once he recovers as a person, he can start to recover as an athlete. And as that process continues, Vick must reiterate how apologetic he is to his fans because they are paramount in his recovery. While PETA and the ASPCA are strong and powerful organizations, Vick’s fan base could overwhelm those critics and be paramount in accepting him back, enabling him to move on from the recovery process and start to rebuild his image and career.
Rebuild: History has shown that the most important element in rebuilding an athlete’s tarnished image is media coverage. Obviously as Vick pleaded guilty to the dog fighting charges, there was nothing but negative stories in the media. Vick was labeled as a “thug,” as story after story emerged about his bad behavior and his “gang-like entourage” from Newport News. But what Vick has going for him is that this is his only blemish on his resume. And coming from the neighborhood where he grew up, there is something to say about that. Other troubled athletes repeatedly get in problematic situations and the media pounces on them, as they are permanently labeled as a troubled athlete with no chance at a return to their sport. But like the majority of the athletes before him, Vick is hopeful to get a second chance. But he is completely at the mercy of the media. As news broke that Vick was involved in a dog fighting ring and participated in the killing of dogs, he was the topic of news stories throughout the country. Talk show hosts, radio personalities, reporters and editors pounced on every detail of Vick’s plight. However, it has been nearly two years since the news broke and there has been very little written on Vick lately. But perhaps time is the one thing that Vick has on his side as he prepares for his return to football.
Return: While many NFL owners, teams and players believe that Vick will suffer from his time away from football, he might also gain from it. Obviously Vick has lost a touch of his speed and will need to train vigorously in order to get back into football shape. So while time away may have hurt him physically, it has also helped society mentally. Fans and media, like any human beings, often have a short memory. Vick’s bad behavior is not fresh in our minds. Other athletes who have had successful returns can credit the memory loss of society. Animal rights activists have not forgotten and they will be anxiously waiting to protest Vick’s return. So Vick can certainly expect backlash from animal organizations and lovers around the country which will certainly bring negative press. But again, two years have gone by and the majority of society and football fans will have forgotten the specific details of Vick’s behavior and forgive him for what he has done. PETA has also said that they will forgive, and even endorse, Vick if he takes and passes a psychiatric evaluation.
As time and society’s tendency to forgive and forget are on Vick’s side, so too is his God-given athletic ability. There is no doubt that one or more of the 29 NFL teams will give Vick a tryout, simply out of curiosity if nothing else. Vick was once the highest paid athlete in the history of the National Football League and a team could sign him now for very little monetary value. In terms of football, it would be a very low risk, high reward situation. But in terms of the public relations backlash, a team might not take a riskier chance all season. However, Vick seems so determined to return with a fresh start and a fresh team, that he will not blow this opportunity. Because history shows that if he is given a second chance, it could very well be his last.