Some are born into greatness, others fall into it or work hard to obtain it. Michael Vick was always a natural athlete, running circles around and through those who would get in his way. He drew national attention while playing at Virginia Tech and would become one of the highest paid professional football players of all times when he hit the ground running for the Atlanta Falcons. The number “7” would not only be on his jersey, but on millions of others sold around the world. Everyone wanted to be like “Mike.”
Number 7’s fall from greatness, like that of the Buffalo Bills # 32 (O.J. Simpson) would have more to do with his fumbles off the field than on. Vick initially protested his innocence when investigated by federal authorities for gambling on pit bull dog fights involving animals that he and his so-called friends raised and trained to maul and kill other dogs. He now, however, has seen the light and has agreed to plead guilty to these charges, but only after others involved in this criminal enterprise had already rolled over on their “friend” Vick. After all, first in gets the lighter sentence and the other men involved in this terrible “sport” were not going to take a bullet for Michael.
“What’s the matter with Vick,” “what was he thinking,” some might ask, while others would protest that there was some sporting quality to raising dogs to kill other dogs while their human owners placed wagers on the action in the dog ring in front of them. Dogs that succeeded lived and were treated specially by their owners and trainers. Dogs that faltered were cut from Vick’s squad by Vick and others hanging them, drowning them, or slamming their bodies to the ground until they could no longer move, or breath.
Vick was involved in a similar gladiator sport himself. He knew that in professional sports one had to perform, had to win to stay alive, to stay on the team, and to continue to be treated special by those around him. To fail, to be cut from the team for poor performance would be somewhat akin to death for a man like Vick, so he continued to scramble, run, and fight his way across the field. Vick would not let himself be cut down in the prime of his career, not while there was more fame and fortune awaiting him, more recognition, and (not that he needed it), the enormous sums of money. Vick had an initial $3 million signing bonus with Atlanta, to be followed by a $130 million, 10 year contract with the Falcons. Number 7 was branded, he was a Falcon and the Falcons were Michael Vick.
Why? Why with everything going for him did Vick turn to dog fighting with purses of about $1,500 for the winning dog’s owner, not even gas money for the wealthy Vick who had endorsements coming at him, with the accompanying millions of dollars for these endorsements, from every direction?
There is a sense of entitlement that some people are born with and others develop. You can be a congressman and take bribes from a phony Arab Sheik or someone who would give you cash to hide in your home freezer. You can be a junk bond king or the owner of a tech company who milked money from investors and employees while living a lavish life, never mind the tens of thousands of lives you would permanently damage as you ran over those in the field who got in your way. You can be a priest and take terrible advantage of the lives of young people who looked up to you like they would God, or you can be a CIA or FBI agent entrusted with your nation’s secrets and sell them off to the Russians.
Somewhere along the way you have come to believe that you are above the law; that the laws are made for the ordinary citizen, but obviously not for you. As the late hotel billionairess Leona Helmsley was said to have uttered, “Only little people pay taxes.” This before she went to jail for tax evasion. Michael Vick, in Helmselyesk-like fashion, probably believed that the laws concerning gambling and engaging in dog fights were only for the rednecks who were but one step from starting in the remake of the movie “Deliverance.” Now he knows different, but he still may not get it.
Vick has become the poster child for PETA and other animal rights groups, a far better target than throwing blood on the mink coat of some faded Hollywood star. Vick is the here and now, but again, why all the attention? It’s summer and our do-nothing congress is doing what it does best, taking vacations and doing nothing.
It was slow news this summer and Vick and his dogs were bad news, made even more newsworthy when Vick got some really bad advice and lied to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, the owner of the Falcons and the American public through the lips of his high priced attorneys.
Now Vick has to eat those words and humble himself, something he is so unaccustomed to doing that it is completely foreign to him. Vick is more comfortable flipping fans the bird, like when booed after a loss to New Orleans. Now the media, PETA and some elements of society are sending the bird back at him in ways he could never imagine.
Michael Vick was not brought down by a bone crushing tackle or by the process of age and abuse to an otherwise finely honed mind and body; he was tackled hard, blown off the field by a sense of entitlement that others had bestowed on him and one that he readily accepted. Arrogance is a partner of entitlement, and Vick will now find himself standing before a federal judge who will know Vick’s history, how Vick lied to the world, and how he flipped the criminal justice system the bird. Now the bird will come home to roost, but not in Vick’s trademark hair braids, ones he said he’d never cut until the Falcons won another Super Bowl. He already cut them off to clean up his appearance for his time before his sentencing judge, the most important referee he’ll ever encounter on the field called life.
Some may draw parallels between Michael Vick and someone diagnosed with an antisocial personality, someone whose traits include that of an enhanced sense of personal entitlement; someone who is unremorseful for his actions; someone who is apathetic to others while demonstrating unconscionable behavior; someone who blames others; is affectively cold, socially irresponsible and nonconforming to the norms of society. Someone who either has no conscience or who cares only about their own needs and desires to the exclusion of all others. We’ll wait for a court ordered psychologist to confirm such a diagnosis for Vick, but if the jersey fits…
Far more important than the Super Bowl, Vick will play in the sentencing bowl, one in which he may get penalized 12-18 months in prison. We may be witnessing a career so full of promise that was cut down in the mid field of his playing time due, perhaps because after having all the money, fame and fortune that the world had to offer, Vick needed another outlet for his time off the field, one that could win him $1,500 a dog fight. Such a loss in so many ways, and such a lesson for others to learn, hopefully not the hard way that Michael Vick has had to learn it. None of us are so rich or so famous that we are above the law, and money will buy you neither love nor friends; at least not friends who will be the first to sell you down the river. Let’s hope that Vick’s ultimate sentence in court and in life befits his crime; no more, and no less.