First, a disclaimer. I am not particularly a Michael Vick fan. Nor have I ever cheered for the Philadelphia Eagles. The NFL is not a top priority for me. However, for the rest of this season, I will be a fan of Vick and the Eagles, which means I will spend more time than usual following the NFL.
Why? Because of the R words. The real American R words have been experiencing a renascence just across the line from New Jersey in Philadelphia, the new home of Michael Vick.
“Redemption.” In 2007, Michael Vick experienced professional death. When he pleaded guilty to federal felony charges around his dogfighting operation, Vick quickly lost everything. His name became synonymous with evil and cruel. His reputation was shattered to bits. His freedom vanished with a prison sentence. His fortune quickly evaporated into bankruptcy. His future appeared bleak.
After more than two years in professional and personal purgatory, Vick returned quietly to his football career last year in a backup role to Donovan McNabb. Vick played occasionally, and he kept a low profile.
Now, two weeks into this new season, Vick re-emerged in the role of starting quarterback for the Eagles when the planned starter, Kevin Kolb, suffered a concussion. Vick's play was so spectacular that coach Andy Reid restored him to his long-lost role as starting NFL quarterback (let’s hope that hit by the Redskins’ defense Sunday didn’t stunt the process).
While the NFL does not top my priority list, I am a fan of second chances. We are moral beings, capable of making good decisions and bad, capable of helping or harming others, and capable of learning from our mistakes in order to become better versions of ourselves. Second chances are crucial. And Vick, thus far, is making the best of his. Redemption.
Through this slow "Restoration" process, Vick has been quiet, unassuming, and dare I say, humble. He has spoken sparingly, and when he has spoken, he has said the right things. The better things have gone on the field, the more his jersey sales boom off the field, the more Vick has remained steady and even-keeled. In his first start, his on-field performance sparkled, as he threw for nearly 300 yards and 3 touchdowns while running for another against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Vick still never acts as if all is forgiven. "I needed to change my life," Vick said again last week.
Vick now lives like a guy whose experience in purgatory has taught him that he never wants to go back. He admits weakness, acknowledges feeling vulnerable and expresses gratitude to the Eagles, who generously offered him a second chance. The blossoms of redemption are beginning to show.
All of which leads to additional R words. “Racial reconciliation.” Remarkably, it went almost unmentioned, even unnoticed, that a white NFL coach selected a black back-up quarterback to replace his white starter. Injury initiated the change, but then Andy Reid, the white coach, said that Vick was simply playing too well to remain on the bench. Vick became the starter. He had been evaluated by his employer based solely on his performance.
The fact that a white employer (in a situation regarding the historically racially sensitive position of NFL quarterback) evaluated talent, and went with the best performer without any regard to race failed to gain notice in the media coverage. That omission is wonderful. It merely points to another step in progress for a culture that itself is a moral being, capable of improving itself and learning from its mistakes. Judging a man by his performance and the content of his character, without regard to the color of his skin, has taken us some time to achieve. And now that it occurs frequently in America, it is worth celebrating our culture's own redemption.
While many merely focus on the football, the story of Michael Vick is worth celebrating. Thus far, Vick is traveling well a road that is possible only in America. The land of R words. Redemption. Restoration. Racial reconciliation.