Vick's history is laced with trouble

Michael Vick leaves federal court in Richmond, Va., in 2007 after his arraignment on dogfighting charges.
Michael Vick leaves federal court in Richmond, Va., in 2007 after his arraignment on dogfighting charges.
Posted: August 16, 2009

In Atlanta, this became a famous meeting. In 2002, Andrew Young, one of the city's civic treasures, former mayor, and before then the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, met Michael Vick, the town's hottest sports star, coming off the field at Falcons training camp.

Vick was ready to start his second season. Young, also on the Falcons' board of directors, began telling him about how he needed to become more than just a sports star. He needed to embrace his place in the community. Young told Vick he needed a "spiritual rebirth," according to Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Terence Moore, who was invited into the conversation by Young.

"Everything I tried failed," Young later told Sports Illustrated, after Vick was indicted on charges that would eventually send him to prison for 18 months.

Vick's troubles didn't start the day he was indicted. A string of lesser incidents had already changed the headlines. After a 31-13 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Nov. 26, 2006, Vick made an obscene gesture to a fan. That may not have been a huge deal in Philly, but it was in Atlanta.

Less than two months later, Vick's water bottle was confiscated at Miami International Airport. The police report said the bottle smelled of marijuana and contained an unknown substance in a special compartment, which Vick had said was for jewelry. No criminal charges were filed when the police said the substance wasn't a drug. Vick said everybody had rushed to judgment.

An earlier episode had turned into a huge embarrassment for Vick. In April 2005, a woman named Sonya Elliott sued Vick for allegedly giving her genital herpes. This part follows Vick around to this day: Elliott said Vick often checked into health clinics to get tested under the alias "Ron Mexico." The case was settled out of court in April 2006, but the name Ron Mexico became comic fodder. After several requests were made for personalized "Ron Mexico" Falcons jerseys, the NFL took the step of telling its online shop to add the pseudonym to its list of banned names.

More than anything, the transgressions nicked away at his image - and he had a pretty good image in Atlanta. They also popped around the same time as the realization in that city that Vick wasn't going to take some leap as a quarterback and turn into the best the game had ever seen.

Eventually, psychoanalyzing Vick became commonplace in Atlanta. Vick's own estranged father told the Journal-Constitution about his dogfighting operation: "I wish people would stop sugarcoating it. This is Mike's thing. He likes it, and he has the capital to have a setup like that."

His father was presumably not referring to one sentence in the indictment against Vick, a sentence that turned public opinion far away from him: "In or about April of 2007, [two other men] and Vick executed approximately eight dogs that did not perform well in 'testing' sessions at 1915 Moonlight Rd. by various methods, including hanging, drowning and slamming at least one dog's body to the ground."

Vick kept his marketing deals through the pre-dog incidents, but the indictment ended any hope of that. His Nike Air Zoom Vick V shoes were on boats from Asian factories when the news came in from Virginia. Two days after a federal grand jury indicted Vick for his involvement in knowingly sponsoring dogfights, Nike announced it would suspend the release of the Air Zoom Vick V.

Vick reportedly lost $200 million in wages and sponsorship deals, and declared bankruptcy as he served 18 months in prison of a 23-month sentence.

Vick has expressed his remorse and how he has changed, and the endorsement he's gotten from a respected figure such as Tony Dungy is kind of the NFL equivalent of Young's endorsing him in Atlanta.

Obviously, that doesn't erase any of his past. Now, he's starting to earn money again, starting with his Eagles salary.

"He would have to do some enormous rebuilding of his credibility and favorability to even get sniffs from certain brands," said Paul Swangard, director of the University of Oregon's Warsaw Sports Marketing Center. Swangard said certain suppliers to the football industry may look to Vick. "There are going to be fans and kids who still would aspire to be as talented as Michael Vick when he is on a football field," Swangard said. "A company looking to get noticed."

That part hasn't changed. Associating with Michael Vick will get you noticed.


Contact staff writer Mike Jensen

at 215-854-4489 or mjensen@phillynews.com.

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