Can Michael Vick be 'reedeemed?'

Posted: August 17, 2009

IS MICHAEL VICK THE poster child for second chances? Does his hiring by the Eagles offer a "teachable moment" about the possibility of redemption?

Or does it send a horrible message about our corrupted values, by rewarding a sports figure known for vicious pathological crimes because the game - and the big money it generates - matters more than anything?

If the reaction to the Vick announcement last week is any indication, this is sure to be debated long and loudly, probably well into the season. Some fans are thrilled with the newest Eagle; others have organized a boycott of the organization. Few stories have arrived bearing as many lightning rods as this one. (We pity the avid sports fan who is also an animal lover.)

Perhaps not surprisingly, the initial news conference took on the familiar sounds of 21st century life: the "mistake" admitted by the chastened ex-con, the talk by the Eagles and the NFL of second chances and Christian forgiveness.

Whether Vick should be "forgiven" for the deeds he served time for is not up to us. And while we're always glad to see someone who has served their time get a second chance, we do think he can do a lot more to redeem himself than working to save animals, as he now vows he will.

Vick's postprison life doesn't look much like other ex-cons, but the fact remains that Vick is only one in about a million people released from prisons each year.

Most ex-offenders trying to start over don't have the kind of abilities that can generate multimillion dollar sports contracts. They're lucky to find any job, and few have the skills for anything but the lowest-paying ones.

Before we throw a parade for the Eagles organization for giving an ex-offender a second chance, remember that few other businesses thinking about hiring someone just out of prison can expect as big of a return on their investment. Maybe that is why only a handful of businesses have taken advantage of a tax credit offered by the city for companies that hire ex-cons.

If Vick wanted to make a difference, he could point out that most prisoners in Philadelphia lack a high-school diploma. In contrast, Vick attended Virginia Tech on a scholarship before being selected first in the draft by the Atlanta Falcons. He should argue for training and education to help prisoners get back into society.

If Vick wanted to make a difference, he would recognize how fortunate he was to have regular contact with people outside of prison who were giving him counseling and advice. The most high-profile example is former Colts head coach Tony Dungy, but he also got a lot of support from his family. Vick should argue that far too many prisoners don't get that kind of support. They get out of jail isolated from society. That's bad news for everyone.

Finally, if Vick wanted to make a difference, he'd ask the Eagles organization: How many other ex-offenders do they have working within the organization? How many jobs at Lincoln Financial Field are held by people trying to turn their lives around?

He should argue that if the Eagles really want to make a statement about forgiveness and redemption, they'd make sure Michael Vick isn't the only beneficiary.

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