The problem is not Vick. The problem is the Michael Vick Redemption Tour, which is still just taking its first steps, accompanied all along the way by cameras and microphones and notebooks and bright lights and speakers seeking attention and pep-rally applause and under-the-breath cynicism and everything in between.
It is too much. There is no way to avoid it, of course, this collision between public good and public relations, not at the beginning, not as long as the Eagles and the NFL have required all of this as a necessary exercise if Vick is again to make a living as a professional football player.
These are Vick's first acts in the Philadelphia community and they do need to be documented. But they do not reflect reality because the very presence of a dozen television cameras in the back of the room, plus assorted still cameras and radio, television, newspaper and Web site reporters arrayed on the side aisles of the auditorium, alters the reality.
It becomes a stage play: Act I, "See Michael Repent." There were elements of a revival meeting, too. In a couple of places, Vick referred to his remarks as "my testimony."
To repeat, he handled it well. Clutching a folded piece of paper tightly in his left hand as he spoke, Vick was not perfect in his delivery. Every argument or choice of phrase he made would not necessarily hold up under intense cross-examination. But he did seem real, which has to be his goal. He did seem real when he said, "I got sidetracked. I chose to do something that for the life of me, I can't understand."
All around him, the cameras focused in. Because this first Philadelphia appearance - there have been others, in Atlanta and Chicago - was intended for those cameras even more than it was for the freshmen in the seats. It was essential that this kind of forum take place before Vick started playing for the Eagles.
It is what happens after this that matters most, of course - not in a public-relations sense but in a real-life sense. Can Vick get young people to listen when he says, "Use me as an example"? Can Vick make them hear when he says, "It's easy to do the wrong things but hard to do the right things?"
Will he do this more times, a lot more times? Will the Eagles follow through as an organization, as appears to be the intention? Because it all will mean a lot more if the sentiment is persistent, if the action is consistent, if it still takes place after all the bright lights have cooled down.
At one point during the assembly, Wayne Pacelle of the Humane Society of the United States - Vick still has not partnered with a local group - was encouraging students to check the organization's Web site. A kid sitting on the aisle grabbed a pen and some note paper and began to write h-u-m-a-i-n as Pacelle continued speaking.
He looked over, shrugging. Then he handed over the note paper and was given the Web address: humanesociety.org.
The boy mouthed thanks. The assembly continued. So there was at least one kid who was reached when Michael Vick visited Nueva Esperanza Academy, and many more who said they were. At least that is what they told the cameras and the microphones, on the first day.
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