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The Michael Vick Experience: From Prison to Redemption, 2007-2017 (pt. 3)

This three part series walks through the rise, fall, and redemption of Michael Vick, NFL’s outcast turned prodigal son. If you missed it, catch parts one and two here.

As Vick was made his comeback professionally he maintained his commitment to speak out against dog fighting. He traveled around the country speaking to youth and prisoners at schools, recreation centers, churches, jails, and prisons. Over the past ten years since Vick’s arrest state legislatures have increased their efforts to halt dog fighting. Idaho and Wyoming became the 49th and 50th states to make it a felony. The U.S. Congress, with the 2008 Farm Bill, made it illegal to use the U.S. Postal Service to promote dogfighting. In 2014 President Obama signed The Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act into law making it a federal crime to take minors to dog fighting exhibitions. The following year Vick spoke on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, in support of Pennsylvania House Bill 1516. The congressional bill grants police officers the authority to rescue animals from cars on hot days.

“Thank you for being the voice for these victims of cruelty, for helping bring justice to their abusers, and for making clear that animal fighting has no place in our culture. Ultimately, I hope Michael Vick’s legacy is not just a greater understanding that dog fighting persists, but a fierce determination in all corners of our society to end it for good.”
– Matt Bershadker, ASPCA president and CEO

After five years in Philadelphia he concluded his playing career with two lackluster seasons for the New York Jets and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Vick admitted to ESPN’s Adam Schefter that he lost enthusiasm to play in New York and Pittsburgh because he could not handle coming off the bench after having so much success in Atlanta and Philadelphia. Teams did not bother calling him to try out during the 2016 season. Vick signed a contract with the Atlanta Falcons and retired a Falcon on June 12, 2017. Although he is no longer suiting up to play on Sundays his life still revolves around football. While some sports fans were watching Ice Cube’s new Big 3 League, on the Fox Sports 1 (FS1) cable network, composed of retired NBA stars, Michael Vick was involved in a similar league of his own. Vick, along with Terrell Owens and Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson, headlined the inaugural season of the American Flag Football League (AFFL). Vick threw eight touchdown passes in his debut. While the quarterbacks in this league wear soft helmets, the other players only wear baseball caps or headbands with t-shirts and shorts.

Besides playing flag football Vick spoke at the 2017 NFL Rookie Symposium. In June he oversaw the V7 Elite Players’ Showcase held in Virginia Beach. He has done this symposium in the past in Dallas, Tennessee, and Atlanta. His long term goal is to make this a nationwide football academy. High school football players participate in a camp similar to the NFL combine for potential draft picks. College coaches around the country can livestream the symposium to watch these young prospects. The camp does not only emphasize football, academics are stressed as well. Vick also coached high school all-star games in Atlanta, which piqued his interest in coaching football full time. Vick was a guest on Adam Schefter’s Know them from Adam podcast back in May. He expressed his interest in coaching and told Schefter that while he ultimately he wants to be in the NFL, he’d be willing to start off as a quarterback coach at a smaller Division 1 university. He has sought out counsel from his previous coaches: Andy Reid, Jim Mora, Jr., and Mike Tomlin.

In late July the Kansas City Chiefs hired Michael Vick as a coaching intern. He was a recipient of the Bill Walsh Diversity Coaching Fellowship. The Chiefs are coached by Andy Reid, the man who gave Vick his chance at redemption in Philadelphia eight years ago. Apparently wounds heal slowly for dog lovers. A petition was launched at change.org to keep Vick out of Kansas City. Vick stepped down from his post with the Chiefs after only three weeks. But his fall back plan was a job as a football analyst for FS1 and a host on Fox’s NFL Kickoff every Sunday morning during the football season starting this September. Once again the folks from change.org petitioned for his firing. Eric Shanks, the president of Fox Sports, had to make a public statement defending the hiring in spite of the 60,000 signatures demanding Vick’s termination.

Whatchu Talkin Bout Willis!
In the public’s eye Michael Vick has been nearly flawless in his comeback. However, he rubbed a lot of folks in the African-American community the wrong way by appearing to please mainstream America and FOX’s conservative viewers too much. We should have known that something was amiss when Jason Whitlock was on air praising Michael Vick unceasingly. For those of you not hip to Whitlock’s game, he is the most conservative black sportscaster on television. He has offended many liberal blacks with his opinions on Black Lives Matter, hip-hop, President Obama, and racism. After LeBron James’s home was vandalized with racial epithets Whitlock bluntly stated that wealthy black people were completely immune from racial discrimination. Whitlock has been especially critical of Colin Kaepernick’s National Anthem protest from day one. When Vick appeared on FS1’s The Herd with Colin Cowherd and Speak For Yourself, both hosted by Whitlock on this particular day in July, he was asked why Kaepernick cannot get hired by any NFL team this was Vick’s response.

Vick: The first thing we’ve got to get Colin to do is cut his hair. Even if he puts cornrows in there, I don’t think he should represent himself in that way…just go clean-cut… the most important thing he needs to do is just try to be presentable.

While Vick thought he was sounding clever he was immediately branded an Uncle Tom.

“Colin Kaepernick’s hair is irrelevant. The owners don’t like that he’s outspoken.”
– Jemele Hill

“Larry Fitzgerald has dreds. Does he need to change his image? Kwali Leonard wears cornrows. Does he need to change his image? Vick is guilty of perpetuating stereotypes about black men and black hair.”
– Shannon Sharpe

“Say it ain’t so, Mike Vick is a company man.”
– Robert Parker

“Unfortunately, his words were dripping with the sweat of respectability politics.”
– Monique Judge

“As recently as December 2016, while Vick – Fresh haircut and all – was playing for the Atlanta Falcons, more than 35,000 fans petitioned for him to be excluded from the team’s season finale.”
– Taryn Finley

“Mike Vick you’re a cornrowed hypocrite!”
– Marlon Wayans

On the July 18, 2017, episode of The Breakfast Club Charlamagne Tha God gave Vick the “donkey of the day.” According to Charlemagne Vick had fallen into “the sunken place” and forgot where he came from. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/get-out-what-black-america-knows-about-the-sunken_us_58c199f8e4b0c3276fb7824a) Furthermore, Charlamagne pointed out the fact that Vick was giving Kaepernick the advice he probably received from his lawyers and image consultants after he was released from prison for murdering animals. Kaepernick is being ostracized for speaking out on a social justice issue. Vick never used is platform to speak up for social justice or racial issues during his prime. Even his dogfighting advocacy is less about race and more about respect for animals. The other point that Vick is missing, in my opinion, is that he is contributing to what Chuck Modiano calls “the Great White Hope QB Awards”. Modiano points out how white privilege allows white quarterbacks with far less ability than Kaepernick to keep getting chance after chance while a black quarterback is more likely to be exiled from the NFL for any perceived weakness found in his performance or character.

Will Vick end up becoming another Ray Lewis?
Ray Lewis, the former Baltimore Raven, formerly accused of double murder, was forced to change his image too. Now he is a football analyst for Fox Sports who frequently expresses similar views as Whitlock. After his publicly scrutinized meeting with President Trump, Lewis told black America that we can “forget black and white” because the Trump administration is the solution to our problems. Vick’s political views are not publicly known. Perhaps his comments were less about the bag (of money) that FOX is giving him and actually a reflection of his political ideology. Could Michael Vick be a man who is willing to say and do anything to rebrand himself? If he wants to keep a happy home he will keep his controversial social commentary to himself. On the debut episode of the VH1 reality series, Baller Wives, produced by Vick and his wife Kijafa, she threatened to “take the cookie away” from him if he continued to make such statements that alienated him on Black Twitter.

Conclusion
The redemption of “the Vick dogs” is symbolic of Michael Vick’s redemption. The dogs that were rescued from Bad Newz Kennels were thought to be too injured to save. PETA and the Humane Society suggested euthanizing them. Dr. Stephen Zawistowski, vice president of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), worked with an organization called Bad Wrap which was dedicated to rehabilitating dogs thought to be dangerous beyond rehabilitation. Dr. Zawistowki asked to have the dogs sent to him, where they could be evaluated to see if they would react to a touch. A doll baby was used to see if they would attack kids. Only 10-12 of the dogs were too violent. The others were very timid and strongly desired human interaction. The team determined that 47 dogs were candidates for rehabilitation. Of those, 25 were deemed appropriate for foster care where they would be placed in homes of people with basic dog handling skills. The other 22 dogs would be sent to sanctuaries, places where healthy dogs with some behavioral problems go to live with experienced handlers. The majority of these dogs went to live at a sanctuary in Utah called Best Friends, the largest no kill shelter in the nation. Throughout Vick’s trial the dogs were identified by numbers. When they left for Utah they were given names such as Dutch, Froto, Hector, and Johnny Rotten. Dutch now lives in Vallejo, CA with his owner, and you couldn’t tell from looking at him that he was ever a fighter. Johnny Rotten lives with an owner in San Francisco, his new name is Johnny Justice, and he is a therapy dog helping kids overcome shyness and learn to read at the public library. Hector lives in upstate New York with a couple that owns other dogs. He still bears the physical scars on his chest and arms from the fights, and has a chip in his tongue. But otherwise he is great dog. Bad Newz Kennels is now the Good Newz Rehab Center, a home for abused and neglected dogs.

Vick is the NFL’s version of the Prodigal Son. He squandered his wealth and blessings with wild, reckless living. After hitting his nadir he was forced to change his life. He was forced to call out to his father for forgiveness. (Jesus’ Parable of the prodigal Son, Luke 15: 11-32) Vick says prison brought him closer to God and made him a better man. He was able to be saved in a similar fashion as those dogs. Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin believes that Vick views his past adversity as an opportunity for ministry. Untold numbers of inmates look to him for inspiration of what they can become. Untold numbers of teenagers and boys look to his narrative as a cautionary tale. His successful reinvention over this past decade makes an ideal episode for The Oprah Winfrey Show or Iyanla: Fix My Life. He has a new career in television, a potential future in coaching, he is making inroads in Hollywood, and his bankruptcy debts are paid in full. Most importantly he has a happy marriage and a brand new baby (Michael Vick, Jr.) born five days before this Thanksgiving. Vick certainly has a lot to give thanks for.

Buckle your seatbelts, ‘The Michael Vick Experience’ is still in session!

This three part series walks through the rise, fall, and redemption of Michael Vick, NFL’s outcast turned prodigal son. If you missed it, catch parts one and two 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.