Astounded by Vick deal

A fan in the stands at last night's Eagles-Patriots game wears a Michael Vick jersey. If he knew the Eagles were going to pick up the troubled quarterback, he was one of very few.
A fan in the stands at last night's Eagles-Patriots game wears a Michael Vick jersey. If he knew the Eagles were going to pick up the troubled quarterback, he was one of very few.
Posted: August 14, 2009

A text came in. Then another. Then the whispers started in the press box. Then the phone started ringing. This all happened within seconds.

It was about 8:45 last night when the focus shifted and everything changed. People stopped talking about how good Shady McCoy looked in the Eagles' preseason opener against the Patriots and started talking about the big news.

Did you hear? The Birds signed Michael Vick.

I didn't believe it at first. I didn't believe it until Vick's agent, Joel Segal, confirmed the rumor to ESPN.com. A news conference is scheduled for today.

The fans at Lincoln Financial Field didn't seem to believe it either. One guy seated right in front of the press box stood up, knocked on the glass and mouthed the question to me that everyone was asking: "Is it true?" When I nodded yes, he didn't seem so thrilled. The poor guy put his hands on his bald head and shook it. He did that for a long while. His reaction probably wasn't unique.

It was barely two years ago that the former Atlanta signal-caller traded his Falcons uniform for government-issue prison garb after being convicted of conspiracy and running a dogfighting operation. Vick was sentenced to 23 months in the federal pen and suspended indefinitely by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. The commish has since softened his stance, allowing Vick to look for work and stating that he could be eligible for full reinstatement by Week 6 at the latest.

And so now Ron Mexico is an Eagle. To say it's a shocking development is a gross understatement. If anyone in town expected this or knew it was happening, they did a good job keeping it a secret. Vick reportedly flew into town Tuesday night and remained undetected until late last evening. That's a hard thing to pull off. If his football comeback falls through, he has a terrific career ahead of him as a spy.

Covert operations aside, the Eagles will take a PR hit on this, and it won't be a small one. PETA and pet owners everywhere will crucify Vick and the Birds for climbing into bed together. Radio hosts will jabber about it incessantly and question what the hell the Eagles were thinking. Columnists and bloggers will write countless words - many of which will be angry and judgmental.

If you've already dug in and joined the anti-Vick camp, I won't blame you or try to change your mind. People love dogs. I'm one of them. I'm a sucker for just about any animal, but the ones that roll over and play fetch and slobber all over me - even when I'm not at my best (which is most of the time) - are by far my favorite. What Vick did to those dogs was cruel and terrible and indefensible.

But I'm not going to kill the Eagles for signing him, and I'm not going to attack Vick or ascribe some pejorative label to the guy. I don't know the man. I don't know why he got involved with dogfighting. But I do know that he went to prison, and he lost his job, and he's been beaten up quite a bit over the last two years. He's been beaten up almost endlessly. And for good reason. Don't get it twisted, he deserved his punishment - all of it. But after doing his time and losing almost everything he'd worked so hard to achieve, hasn't he paid the price required of someone looking to purchase a second chance?

This Sunday, CBS will air an interview with Vick on 60 Minutes. The full transcript isn't available yet, but I went over the little bit that has been released. I searched for answers to the same questions we all have: Is he contrite? Does he realize how badly he messed up? Is he willing to take responsibility for his actions and admit his mistakes? Is he capable of changing for the better after all this?

"It's wrong, man," Vick says on 60 Minutes. "I feel, you know, some tremendous hurt behind what happened. And, you know, I should have took the initiative to stop it all. I didn't - I didn't stop it all."

No, he didn't. And he'll be forever shamed for that lack of judgment. He'll never be able to fully shake the stigma of what he did. He'll always be Michael Vick - the guy who fought dogs and killed them.

That's a horrible burden to shoulder. He brought it on himself, of course, but I still wouldn't wish that fate on anyone.

But, ultimately, whether people forgive Vick will have more to do with what happens in the future than what happened in the past. He needs to prove he's truly, deeply sorry for what he did - and not simply because it irreparably damaged his once-promising career.

"I mean, football doesn't even matter," Vick told 60 Minutes.

That's a start.


Contact columnist John Gonzalez at 215-854-2813 or gonzalez@phillynews.com.

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