The Michael Vick Experience: From Prison to Redemption, 2007-2017 (pt. 2)

This three part series walks through the rise, fall, and redemption of Michael Vick, NFL’s outcast turned prodigal son. Catch parts one and three here.

Michael Vick’s first television interview after being released from prison in 2009 came on CBS’s 60 Minutes. African-American sportscaster James Brown conducted the interview in Virginia because Vick was not allowed to cross state lines without permission from his probation officer. Gone were the cocky demeanor, cornrows, and jewelry. A remorseful Vick appeared clean shaven, wearing a conservative haircut, blue suit, and tie.

Vick: I cried so many nights….. All cause of the so called culture that I thought was cool led me to being a prison bunk by myself with nobody to talk to but myself.

Brown: Who do you blame for all of this?

Vick: I blame me.

Brown: For those who may say it (dogfighting) showed a lack of moral character because you didn’t stop it. Do you agree or disagree?

Vick: I agree…. I could have put a stop to it. I could have shut the whole operation down.

Brown: So for the cynics who would say Michael Vick might be more concerned with the fact that his
career was hurt than that dogs were hurt?

Vick: Football don’t even matter…. I deserved to lose the $130 million.

During the interview Vick was joined by two new associates: retired Super Bowl winning head coach Tony Dungy and Wayne Pacelle. Roger Goodell asked Dungy, a deeply religious man who had a history of working with incarcerated black males, to serve as Vick’s mentor. Pacelle was the president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States. Ironically, it was his organization that provided evidence which helped put Vick in prison. Pacelle told Brown that he saw the reformed Vick as a strong advocate that could go into poor neighborhoods across the country speaking to youth about caring for their animals and preaching an anti dog fighting message. According to Pacelle there were about 40,000 professional dog fighters nationwide and 100,000 street fighters from all races and social backgrounds at the time. (Pacelle, also a devout Christian, would admit to Oprah Winfrey on a 2016 episode of Super Soul Sunday that he saw his work with Vick as a form of ministry.)

Dungy: He and I talked about for a long time at Leavenworth. He talked about not training, not studying. Taking things for granted, gifts that the Lord had given him.

Vick: I reached a point in my career where I lost touch with my Lord and savior. I thought I could do that on my own. I couldn’t, so I had to resurrect that back in my life.

Brown: Now you know most people who get in trouble all of a sudden they find God. And you say?

Vick: That’s the only way I made it through prison. Having faith and believing in a higher power.

The interview also introduced viewers to Vick’s new team image consultants and advisors led by Judy Smith. Smith is the founder and CEO of the Washington, DC based crisis management firm Smith & Company. She is best known for advising Monica Lewinsky and aiding President George H.W. Bush during the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court hearing. And for those of you who are not familar with ABC’s TGIT, she is the inspiration for Scandal’s anti-heroine Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington). On Scandal Pope is the master of making absolutely guilty people appear remorseful and worthy of the public’s forgiveness.

Brown: Michael, is this you talking or the Vick team of attorneys, image shapers, and the like?

Vick: This is Mike Vick. People will see my work with the communities and the Humane Society.

To further assist in his extreme makeover Vick appeared in a ten part docu-series on BET called The Michael Vick Project. The series gave its nearly three million viewers an all-access pass to the initial months of Vick’s post-prison journey. They met his future fiancé and now wife Kijafa. On an episode the couple shares their first date night in two years. They saw Vick spend his first birthday with their youngest daughter. He had missed her first birthday party while he was in Leavenworth. They see Vick take his younger brother Marcus inside his prison cell as a scared straight tactic following Marcus’s own run-in with the law. Viewers also witnessed Vick’s attempt to reconcile with his estranged father.

Vick received a second chance to play in the NFL thanks to the help of his former college tour guide Donovan McNabb. McNabb convinced his head coach, Andy Reid, to sign Vick as his backup. On August 14, 2009, he signed a two-year deal worth $1.6 million with the Philadelphia Eagles. Vick’s signing was met with great disdain for several Philadelphia fans. Some (white) fans sold their season tickets. Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), doubted his sincerity in wanting to change his life. She still feels this way today and sees him as a sociopath. Fox News Channel host Tucker Carlson, while speaking on air with Sean Hannity, said he would rather see Vick executed rather than be given a second chance. However, then President Barack Obama called the Eagles front office to commend them for giving him a chance to reform himself. President Obama knew of so many prisoners and young black men who never received a second chance. Vick was primarily used as a gimmick player his first year in Philadelphia. The Eagles lined him up at quarterback, wide receiver, and half back. He was the team’s third string quarterback for the majority of the season. Vick’s luck changed the next season when his mentor Donovan McNabb was traded to the Washington Redskins. The Eagles entered the year with Kevin Kolb as their starter. Vick was number two on the quarterback depth chart.

The Eagles played their 2010 season opener against the Green Bay Packers. Kolb suffered an injury early in the game giving Vick an opportunity to start. Vick rushed for 103 yards. The Eagles lost 27-20 despite by an impressive outing from Vick. The Eagles won the following week against the Detroit Lions. With Vick as the starting quarterback for 11 of 16 games the Eagles went 8-3 and reached the Wild Card round of the playoffs. In the 2010 season Vick amassed 3,018 passing yards, 676 rushing yards, 30 touchdowns, he won NFL comeback player of the year, was named to the Pro Bowl, and was a candidate for NFL’s Most Valuable Player award. The highlight of the season was a Monday Night Football matchup with McNabb’s Washington Redskins on ESPN. The game began with Vick (30-years-old) throwing a 88-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver DeSean Jackson. Vick’s performance was jaw dropping. He threw for 333 yards and four touchdowns. He ran for another 80 yards and two touchdowns. The Eagles defeated the Redskins 59-28. New York Giants fans may also remember their 38-31 defeat to the Eagles on December 19, 2010. Vick brought Philadelphia back from a 14-point halftime deficit. The game ended with DeSean Jackson returning a punt 65 yards for the winning touchdown. ‘The Michael Vick Experience’ was back in business.

Tony Dungy believes that Michael Vick would have been among the greatest NFL quarterbacks in history if he had the same work ethic and focus from the start of his career. Philadelphia awarded Vick with a six-year $100 million contract in 2011. Forty million of that contract was guaranteed. Nike resigned Vick after originally severing ties in 2007. This was the first time that a sports marketing brand dropped an athlete and then resigned him or her. His #7 jersey was the fourth highest selling jersey in the entire league for 2011. In 2012 he married his fiancé Kijafa and published his memoir, Finally Free.

This three part series walks through the rise, fall, and redemption of Michael Vick, NFL’s outcast turned prodigal son. Catch parts one and three here.

By Joshua K. Wright, Ph.D

Joshua K. Wright, Ph.D. is an associate professor of History and coordinator for the Social Studies Teacher Education Program at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.