Bad News For Michael Vick

On Thursday, NFL player for the Falcons, Michael Vick made his latest mistake.  Instead of facing the cameras and making his statement to his family and his fans, Michael Vick let his lawyer read his statement.  Thursday was the day that Vick entered his not guilty plea in federal court on charges relating to animal cruelty and dog fighting.

"I take these charges very seriously and look forward to clearing my good name…I respectfully ask all of you to hold your judgment until all of the facts are shown. Above all, I would like to say to my mom, I’m sorry for what she has had to go through in this most trying of times. It has caused pain to my family and I apologize to my family." So said Atlanta Falcons star quarterback Michael Vick — now charged in federal court with interstate dogfighting.  Vick made the statement through his lawyer, Billy Martin.

My family had season’s tickets to the Falcons from the beginning until my father was unable to make the trek every week. We had 50-yard line seats. This was a time before sky boxes and million dollar players when you would go to the stadium and a traveling salesman like my dad would sit with an executive and enjoy the game together. I long for the days of clean cut, suit wearing football players.  It’s about boundaries, folks, and Michael Vick hasn’t had them.

Many disappointing seasons passed with the Falcons but in 2001, Michael Vick came to town after a stellar Virginia Tech college career.  Even with inconsistent performance, Vick has been a formidable marketing force.  He had contracts with Air Tran, Nike and other big names.  His jersey was the best selling jersey in all markets and young kids all around the world wore number 7 with Vick’s name on the back. He was one of the most popular players in the league due to his rags to riches story from the projects in Newport News (known as Bad News) to the National Football League and millions of dollars in salary and endorsements every year.

But in the last year or so, Vick added inconsistent behavior off the field to his inconsistent performance on the field. One of the top people in Atlanta PR said, “You can’t keep hanging’ with the homeboys when you’re making millions of dollars a year, they will bring you down.” And in June, they brought him down with a federal indictment.

Since Vick’s December, 2004 signing of a 10-year contract with the Atlanta Falcons worth more than $167 million dollars making him the highest paid player in NFL history, his behavior seemed to change. Michael Vick started to believe that he could do whatever he wanted and he had plenty of people around him telling him that too.  Too many people were making money with and off of Michael Vick.

First, after being booed late in the 2006 season, Vick made an obscene gesture at the fans holding up his two middle fingers.  He apologized, saying that he let his emotions get the best of him.  Then, he was stopped at Miami International Airport because he didn’t want to part with a water bottle.  There was a compartment in the water bottle that had the aroma of marijuana, but none was found.  Vick later said that it was a jewelry compartment. Then, in April of this year, Michael Vick was due to lobby on Capitol Hill for after school programs but missed his flight and didn’t appear.  It was a tough year for Michael Vick fans.

Then came the 2007 Bad Newz Kennels investigation.  Michael Vick was later charged with involvement in a wide range of behaviors from operating rape stands for dogs to transporting fighting dogs across state lines. After the initial reading of the charges, I started to ask around about dog fighting.  I was amazed at how prevalent this was among 20 something males.  From dog fighting to the Ultimate Fighting Championships to “beat downs” on cell phone videos then posted on the internet, there is a violent culture among younger folks that has nothing to do with guns and everything to do with the devaluing of human life.

So what went wrong?  First of all, the inmates are running the asylum.  In sports, or in entertainment, no one is irreplaceable, though we treat stars as if they were.  The Falcons made a big investment in Michael Vick the player but no investment in Michael Vick the person.  Showing up at celebrity golf tournaments is not giving back to the community. 
The NFL needs to have mentors with these young players for the first two years showing them how to make the transition from poverty to wealth without it killing you.  Most lottery winners are broke and unhappy with in a few years of their wins.  Getting to the NFL or the NBA is the athletic lottery and it can kill you the same way.  There’s no farm team system like in Major League Baseball, so there’s no transition. 

What should Falcons owner Arthur Blank do?  He and the NFL have banned Michael Vick from training camp and suspended him for the first 4 games.  Vick has lost most of his endorsements.  He is, however, innocent until proven guilty.  Arthur Blank should tell Michael Vick, "come see me when you’ve been cleared and we’ll talk about you coming back to play football."

Michael Vick needs to come clean with his lawyers and the Feds. He needs to cooperate in every way that will keep him out of jail because there isn’t anything else he can do that will provide him the living he is making now.  He can’t afford to spend the best years of his career in federal prison.  Then he needs to show some humility and go into public and apologize to the children and families who idolized him.  He has been given a great gift and up until this point he’s squandered it.

Society needs to stop making heroes of entertainers who make millions.  There is not a single one of the young and wealthy that have made the nightly news lately — Lohan, Hilton, Spears or Vick — that have an ounce of the heroics that a 22 year old serving his country in the battlefields of the War on Terror has today and every day that he is called on to serve.  America, let’s get our priorities straight.