Phil Sheridan: Eagles put wrong terms on Vick signing

Andy Reid, with Michael Vick seated next to him, left little room for disagreement when the Eagles coach brought up the American way as a justification for signing the quarterback.
Andy Reid, with Michael Vick seated next to him, left little room for disagreement when the Eagles coach brought up the American way as a justification for signing the quarterback.
Posted: August 15, 2009

If we are to believe the coaches, signing Michael Vick to play for the Eagles was about God and Country - not what Vick might be able to do lined up in the Wildcat offensive formation.

"So I think we're just seeing a symbol of some great leadership and Christian forgiveness," said Tony Dungy, the respected former NFL coach who has taken on the role of Vick's spirit guide.

"Fortunately, in this country if we handle ourselves properly, we are given an opportunity for second chances," said Andy Reid, the head coach who pushed to sign Vick.

Clearly, Dungy and Reid believe what they said. There is no doubting their desire to offer Vick an opportunity to rewrite his legacy and atone for his actions. There's a football component here, to be sure, but there is something more.

Here's the problem. By defending the Vick signing in those terms, Dungy and Reid also imply that anyone who disagrees with the move is somehow not Christian (or forgiving) and not American enough. And that's just not fair.

It is possible to wish Vick a redemptive and productive future without wanting to spend your Sunday afternoons rooting for him on the football field. It is possible to think he paid his debt to society for his egregious behavior and also think it is a mistake for the Eagles to add him to their team.

Let's also call a foul on the use of the word mistake to describe what Vick did. This was not some spontaneous, unwise decision or action. Vick and his cohorts built carefully hidden facilities to conduct an ongoing criminal dogfighting and gambling enterprise. Over a period of six years, Vick personally killed dogs in ghastly ways: hanging, electrocution and drowning.

That's not a mistake. That's a way of life. And yes, it is fair to believe behavior that appalling, over a period of years, says more about a man's character than a few public expressions of remorse.

There were some very harsh words used to describe Vick's crimes yesterday, as the shock of his signing faded to grudging acknowledgment that he's an Eagle. Words like horrific and anathema and horrendous cruelty. Those words didn't come from the handful of protesters who turned up outside the NovaCare Complex or from a PETA press release.

They came from Jeff Lurie, the owner of the Eagles and the man who ultimately had to sign off on what he described as a "counterintuitive" decision.

Two years ago, as Vick's case was making national headlines, Lurie made it clear he would never tolerate having such a player on his team. Earlier this month, he reiterated his core belief that a commitment to "high-character" players and coaches was at the foundation of the Eagles' success over the last decade.

Before anyone could ask Lurie to explain this obvious contradiction, he took it upon himself in a remarkable 13-minute monologue. Lurie was visibly uncomfortable with this whole thing.

"Sometimes in life you have to make extremely difficult and soul-searching decisions where there is no right answer," Lurie said. "There are probably a lot of wrong answers, but there is no clear path and no right answer. This was one of them."

For years, the Eagles took pride in not being one of those teams that signed any talented miscreant who came along. They scoffed when the Dallas Cowboys scooped up Pacman Jones or some such villain. The Eagles were different.

That's gone now. Lurie knows that, which is why he anguished over this, why he insisted on meeting with Vick personally and looking for signs of the "self-hatred" that would indicate genuine, heartfelt remorse.

Lurie had two advantages over the rest of us who shared his initial revulsion at Vick's actions. He had the ability to sit and talk to the 29-year-old, who is in bankruptcy after two years in federal custody. And he had the ability to choose whether Vick would wear the uniform of the team Lurie owns on paper but that millions have an emotional stake in.

Everyone else has had two years for their opinions of Vick to form and harden. For many - and Lurie professed to be one of them - cruelty to animals is just one of those issues seen in absolute terms. Preying on the defenseless and weak, enjoying the suffering of the helpless - is the "worst possible behavior of a human being," as Lurie put it.

Asking Eagles fans to erase all of that in the time it took Vick to sign a contract is just asking too much - whether the move was all about football or whether it was all about God and Country.


Contact columnist Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844 or psheridan@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/philsheridan.

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