The news that Michael Vick has found a team willing to pay for his services this fall should surprise no one, though there are many who will condemn the Philadelphia Eagles for doing so.
Vick is the 29-year-old quarterback who just completed an 18-month stint in the federal prison in Leavenworth, Kan., for conspiracy and running a dogfighting ring. He’s now serving three years probation, but is free to go back to work.
Vick’s work, of course, made him famous and wealthy beyond the dreams of most Americans. As a star quarterback at Virginia Tech, Vick led the Hoakies to the national title game in 2000. He was so good at football he left college early and was the number one pick in the 2001 National Football League draft, going to the Atlanta Falcons. As a professional, Vick led the Atlanta Falcons to the playoffs twice, including the 2004 National Conference Championship game. Good enough, in fact, the Falcons rewarded him in late 2004 with a 10-year, $130-million contract extension that guaranteed him an NFL-record $37-million in bonuses. It was the richest contract ever for a football player.
But it all came undone in 2007 when federal agents uncovered the dogfighting ring which Vick financed and was an active participant. He eventually pled guilty to conspiracy and dogfighting, and began serving his sentence in December 2007.
During his incarceration, Vick's financial condition rapidly deteriorated due to having virtually no income and substantial ongoing expenses for attorneys, maintaining at least six luxury homes in Virginia, Georgia, and Florida, providing living expenses and about 10 vehicles for friends and relatives. With debts millions of dollars in excess of assets, and facing judgments and collection efforts by some of the creditors, his attorneys filed for federal bankruptcy protection under Chapter 13 on his behalf in July 2008.
Yesterday, Vick, who still possesses the great speed and strong arm that made him one of the most exciting players in history, woke up broke. Today, after signing a two-year deal with the Eagles that will pay him $1.6 million the first year with an option for $5.2 million the second year, Vick would seem to have gained a second chance at wealth and stardom.
Except that Vick, who has paid his debt to society, apparently has not satisfied the folks at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). And PETA plans to make that fact well known this fall. After Vick’s signing by the Eagles yesterday, PETA issued a statement saying they, and “millions of decent football fans around the world are disappointed that the Philadelphia Eagles have chosen to sign a man who hanged dogs from trees, electrocuted them with jumper cables, held them underwater until they drowned in his swimming pool, and even threw his own family dogs into the fighting pit to be torn to shreds while he laughed. What sort of message does this send to young fans who care about animals and don't want to see them be harmed.
“PETA certainly hopes that Vick has learned his lesson and feels truly remorseful for his crimes—but since he's given no public indication that that's the case, only time will tell. At this point, all Eagles fans can do is cross their fingers and hope that they won't ever have to explain to their sons and daughters what a ‘rape rack’ is and why their favorite player was using one, as Falcons fans once had to.”
Sports writers and commentators have speculated for weeks that Vick would likely find employment this fall, but that any team that signed him must be willing to deal with the negative publicity – i.e. media circus - his presence would bring to their team. The Eagles, a team that has been near-championship caliber the past few years, apparently are willing to take on Vick’s baggage in an effort to grab that elusive brass ring.
The announced signing of Vick yesterday overshadowed news about another troubled NFL player – Cleveland Browns receiver Donte’ Stallworth. The NFL announced Stallworth would be suspended without pay for the entire season following his guilty plea to DUI manslaughter charges. Stallworth stuck 59-year-old crane operator Mario Reyes with his 2005 Bentley while driving drunk last March 14.
Stallworth was in the second year of a seven-year contract that was to pay him $35 million dollars. The guilty plea resulted in a sentence of 30 days in jail, plus 1,000 hours of community service, two years of house arrest, and eight years probation. On July 10, 2009, Stallworth was released from jail after serving just 24 days of the 30-day sentence. Which means he served 17 fewer months in jail than Michael Vick.
The comparison of the Stallworth and Vick cases speaks volumes about the disparity in the justice system. Stallworth was shown leniency by the court, while Vick paid dearly for a lesser crime.
Yet Stallworth’s case will fade rapidly, as have a handful of other instances of athletes who have maimed or killed others while under the influence. But don’t expect Vick to be so lucky.
Before his fall from grace, Vick was extremely popular. He had well-paying endorsement deals with Nike, EA Sports, Coca-Cola, Powerade, Kraft, Rawlings, Hasbro and AirTran. His contract along with his endorsements had Vick ranked 33 among Forbes’ top 100 Celebrities in 2005, and his number 7 Falcons jersey was the number one seller among NFL jerseys.
But Vick’s crimes were against man’s best friend, and PETA will surely throw its significant resources behind a public relations campaign to make sure we never forget how abhorrent the acts. You can bet PETA’s creative team is huddled this very moment planning how they will protest Vick’s first appearance in an Eagles jersey.
Mounting his own PR campaign, Vick has given the first interview since his release from prison to CBS’ 60 Minutes, and vows to interviewer James Brown that he will help end dogfighting. I hope Vick was careful in choosing his words. PETA would like nothing more than to capture sound bites for use in their own campaign. The 60 Minutes interview airs this Sunday at 7 p.m. Eastern Time, 6 p.m. Central Time.
Regardless of what you think of Michael Vick, or even football, the man has paid his debt to our society. He should be allowed to go back to work and attempt to put his life back together.
Donte' Stallworth, however, is a man who, regardless of his remorse, was given a slap on the wrist for taking the life of a man who worked hard to make a fraction of the money awarded to Stallworth and Vick.
What does it say about PETA that they didn’t issue a statement condemning Stallworth’s early release from jail? What does it say about the people who will soon carry banners outside Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field protesting Vick’s right to earn a living?