After signing a 10-year, $130-million contract with the Atlanta Falcons less than three years ago, Michael Vick appeared to have it all – and maybe he did – but only for a moment. In the last few days, he has plummeted from role model and hero to despised dog abuser.
On Aug. 24, Vick pleaded guilty to one count of "conspiracy to travel in interstate commerce in aid of unlawful activities and to sponsor a dog in an animal fighting venture." Sentencing is set for December 10. The former NFL No. 1 draft pick from Virginia Tech could face up to five years in a federal prison, but prosecutors have agreed to seek a lesser punishment.
Michael McCann, an assistant professor at Mississippi College School of Law, estimates that what Vick called his "bad judgment, making bad decisions, could cost the quarterback up to $144 million in lost pay, bonuses and endorsements. On Aug. 27, Vick apologized publicly. "I was not honest and forthright in our discussions," Vick said, referring to his interaction with law enforcement authorities, the NFL and the Falcons.
Vick said he was most upset with himself for having let down children who view him as a role model. "I hope that every young kid out there in the world watching this interview right now who's been following the case will use me as an example to using better judgment and making better decisions," he said.
Vick may find solace in knowing that, after hearing his story, both my children concluded that it was good neither to be involved in dog fighting nor to lie. I hope all of the millions of children who once looked up to Vick as a hero and have slept in a number 7 Falcons jersey reach the same conclusion. Vick has said his new goal is to focus on "how to make Michael Vick a better person."
He might be able to learn from another quarterback who had his own share of problems. Although a bit younger than Vick (24 vs. 27), Colt Brennan, senior quarterback at the University of Hawaii, had a brush with the law in 2004 that resulted in his being convicted of second-degree burglary and first-degree criminal trespass. This occurred when he was a freshman at the University of Colorado and appears to have made a lasting impact on the player.
Brennan left Boulder and attended Saddleback Community College in the fall of 2004. He moved to the University of Hawaii in the fall of 2005, where he regained his footing and is in the running for the Heismann Trophy. During his apology speech, Vick said, "I found Jesus, I asked him for forgiveness, I turned my life over to God."
Brennan too underwent a spiritual transition. It happened as he was Googling words for peace of mind around the time of his trial and stumbled across a passage from Romans 12. "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and perfect." According to Brennan, this passage changed his attitude.
Brennan recalled thinking, "I don’t need to worry about what anyone thinks." Today, he says, "my actions, over time, will display not only the person I was, but help me clear up everything that happened out there in Colorado. I’m not perfect, and I know I’m going to make plenty of mistakes. But it’s all about the journey and what you are and what you do."
Brennan appears to have accomplished his goal of becoming a better person through humility and community service. He often speaks to school children about making good decisions and overcoming adversity. Possibly, Vick can carve out an area of interest where he can provide a positive role model once again to the children whom he let down.
Pacman Jones, a player for the Tennessee Titans was suspended for the 2007 NFL season in May of this year for numerous violations for the NFL's personal conduct code. Commissioner Roger Goodell stated in response to Pacman Jones’ behavior: "You have to earn your way back into the National Football League, and you have to earn it through your conduct. It's not about what you tell the commissioner, or what you tell anyone. It's your conduct and your activities." In an e-mail, McCann predicted Goodell will let Vick play again in the NFL."Vick's guilty plea, acknowledgment of his wrongdoing, and expressions of sorrow appear to indicate that he recognizes his failings and wants to correct his behavior," McCann wrote. "Certainly, the genuineness of his contrition may be questioned, but at face value he appears to be sorry.
"If he serves his time without incident, avoids other controversy, and commits to using his football fame for good (such as pledging to donate a meaningful portion of any future football-related income to animal abuse shelters), he would seem to be on the right road to redemption, not only in the eyes of Commissioner Goodell, but also of many Americans." McCann added, "And while we never forget his role in unspeakably horrific dog abuse, we also, I suspect, recognize that we all make errors and that we can all change and become better persons."
So Michael Vick faces a long road before he can expect to shake his current image and be judged by his future activities and conduct. I wish him luck and hope that he does redeem himself.