Vick's redemption off to slow start

Eagles quarterback Michael Vick (second from right) watches a Humane Society videowith society chief Wayne Pacelle (far right) at Nueva Esperanza Academy.
Eagles quarterback Michael Vick (second from right) watches a Humane Society videowith society chief Wayne Pacelle (far right) at Nueva Esperanza Academy.
Posted: September 09, 2009

There were two reasons the personal Michael Vick moratorium was over before it began.

Reason No. 1: Vick made the first of his local anti-dogfighting appearances at Nueva Esperanza Academy in the Hunting Park section of the city yesterday. Because owner Jeffrey Lurie created the "proactive" gold standard for judging the Eagles' signing of Vick, it is important to hold him, the organization, and especially Vick to that standard.

Reason No. 2: This might be a little harder to follow, but those of us who have come down heavily against the Vick signing owe it to the man and his new employers to keep our minds as open as possible. If Vick is really here as some kind of experiment in football-based redemption and rehabilitation, it is only fair to give him a chance to prove himself.

So it is with apologies to the Vicked-out that we take one more preseason look at this situation. After today, we promise, the Vick moratorium and the regular season will begin. No more Vick until he's on the team and playing football and it just can't be helped. Promise.

Let's revisit Lurie's heartfelt remarks the day the Eagles introduced Vick. They are the criteria on which this pass-fail exam will be graded.

"If we don't have an extremely proactive player here off the field, then this is a terrible decision," Lurie said. "It's going to be initially disappointing to some people that we have given him the second chance, and I'm aware of that. . . . My hope is that as we go forward, that Michael will prove his value in society. Whether he becomes a good football player again is possible, but more importantly for Michael and for the National Football League, he has an opportunity to be a very valuable member of society, and that's the goal here."

The Eagles reportedly will roll out a bunch of initiatives to raise awareness of animal cruelty, and that's all very nice. But this is about what Vick says and does, and on the first day of school, he addressed about 200 incoming freshmen at the mostly Latino charter high school.

So how did he do? Was Vick the high-impact spokesman for animal rights that he, the Eagles, and the Humane Society of the United States have promised he will be?

Not really.

There was nothing wrong with the roughly 10-minute talk delivered by Vick. It was pretty much like every other stay-in-school, work-hard, listen-to-your-parents school visit by pretty much any other professional athlete (or pretty much any adult invited to speak to school kids, frankly). Vick made references to having a "dark side" and being "foolish" and doing things "detrimental to my career."

The kids listened attentively, but Vick didn't really tell his "story." He acknowledged listening to his friends and getting into trouble, but he didn't explain what he did, or why. He didn't tell them he was the owner and operator of a large criminal enterprise.

The point isn't that Vick needed to confess every awful aspect of his dogfighting operation. Gruesome details would not have been appropriate in an auditorium full of hopeful teenagers.

But if this is going to work, if Vick is really going to effect change and not merely show up for a few photo ops, he needs to work on his message. If he really is uniquely positioned to reach at-risk young people and cut through the noise in their lives and "save more dogs than he harmed," as he put it, he has to do better than this.

Vick could talk about growing up in Newport News, Va., about seeing human life so devalued that he couldn't begin to think of animals' lives as valuable.

He could talk about how tough it is to escape from the people and surroundings you grow up with. Even with NFL millions in the bank, Vick couldn't do it. Kids struggling to imagine a world beyond Roosevelt Boulevard might benefit from knowing that other, successful people faced the same challenges.

Vick could put all this in the most direct terms, because kids will understand those: "I lost over $100 million and went from living in mansions to rotting in prison because I tried to impress my stupid childhood friends by acting as 'street' and stupid as they did. And you know what? I deserved it."

When the Eagles signed Vick, they said that they were moved by how deeply remorseful he seemed to be, that he really appeared to be a changed person. Vick hasn't shown that changed and remorseful man to the rest of the world. Not yet.

His visit to the school did no harm, and it might even have done some good, but in the words of countless teachers: Vick is capable of better work. He just has to apply himself.


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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