Missing point on Vick

Michael Vick's interview with GQ magazine put the Eagles' quarterback in throes of controversy.
Michael Vick's interview with GQ magazine put the Eagles' quarterback in throes of controversy. (YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: August 19, 2011

PITTSBURGH - The strangest part of the Michael Vick GQ magazine controversy might be what has been deemed most controversial.

Author Will Leitch's main point isn't about whether Vick could have ended up with the Bengals or the Bills, though he says in the story that Vick was initially leery of the Eagles, and thought opportunities in Cincinnati or Buffalo might be more promising.

It's a story about how blacks and whites interpret the Vick saga differently - a topic that was raised in these pages last season - and beyond that, how Vick's public contrition might not be the entire scope of his complicated feelings about the dogfighting conviction that landed him in federal prison.

Instead, the sports media circus decided yesterday that since Leitch and Vick implied NFL commissioner Roger Goodell played a role in his decision, somehow, Goodell wronged the Bengals and the Bills.

First, as Vick said in the statement he was forced to release yesterday, he never said in the story that Goodell steered him away from anywhere. If you recall the situation in 2009, Vick's primary adviser was Tony Dungy, who had a relationship with Andy Reid he might not have had with a lot of other coaches. Other key advice came from agent Joel Segal, who also is pretty close to Eagles management. Also, Vick was not a hot commodity, coming out of prison. There was talk he might have to play in the UFL to get another NFL opportunity.

"I did speak with many people, but the decision to sign in Philadelphia was based on my discussions with my agent, my family, and with coach Reid," Vick's statement said. "After those discussions, it became clear to me that this was the place I wanted to play . . . The commissioner never told me to sign or not sign with particular teams."

Vick expanded on that topic following last night's preseason loss to the host Steelers.

"I didn't totally want it to seem like the commissioner pushed me to make a decision. That was not the issue," Vick said. "I had four or five people around me I consulted . . . But ultimately, it came down to me. That's why I wanted to clear that up . . . It was totally up to me."

The NFL also released a statement, from spokesman Greg Aiello: "Michael Vick's decision on where to play to put himself in the best position to succeed was entirely his own. Commissioner Goodell obviously met and spoke to Michael and his representatives as part of his decision on whether to reinstate Michael and on what terms. But the commissioner would never steer players to or away from particular teams and did not do so in this case."

Vick said last night he knew he had made the right signing decision, "after the first preseason game I played against the Jets, and I tried to take off running and fell flat on my face, because I had no legs up under me. That right there really showed me that I wasn't ready to play that entire season."

The bigger issue - about what the real lesson of Vick's fall and rise is - is one that figures to be debated more than once this season, with Vick firmly established now as the QB of a marquee team again.

"That comes along with the territory," Vick said last night. "We accept that challenge."

If you've ever been to any of those inner-city rec centers where Vick often speaks, the vibe is not "let's listen to this man explain to us why he hurt those dogs." Vick doesn't spend a lot of time on that. The centers are usually packed to the rafters with people who've come to celebrate Vick as a beacon of hope for them - a black man the whites sent to prison, whose money was taken away, but who has persevered and triumphed. Frankly, that's the story line that netted Vick the Eagles' Ed Block Courage Award, voted by his (mostly black) teammates in '09, that white folks were so upset about.

What Leitch gets at better than anyone else has so far is how this might also be the story line Vick believes, more or less, and not so much the one about how he had to be shown the error of his ways and taught a painful lesson.

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