A shot at redemption fulfilled
In April 2007, football was the last thing on Michael Vick’s mind.
He entered the NFL in 2001 as the first African-American quarterback to be drafted first overall and quickly turned himself into one the best all-around players in the league. But, all that changed in 2007. After taking the Atlanta Falcons to the playoffs, earning several trips to the Pro Bowl and basically becoming the face of Atlanta football, Vick experienced a brutal drop from the limelight, going from top-shelf quarterback to incarcerated felon within the span of a few months.
Vick’s situation is no secret; he became arguably the most hated man in sports when he pleaded guilty to federal dog fighting charges just before the start of the 2007 NFL season. The standout Falcons quarterback was left without a job and the Falcons were left without a quarterback with the NFL season under a month away.
Vick messed up, big time. Reaching professional sports is something that almost all athletes dream about, but only a few can accomplish. Even fewer manage to stick around for any length of time. Then, there are the elite few who make it to the top of their sport and achieve greatness. Vick was part of that elite group. He shattered a golden opportunity beyond repair, or so we thought.
Because of his actions, Vick was sentenced to 21 months in a federal prison. Since major jail time meant that Vick wouldn’t be taking the field anytime soon, the Atlanta Falcons successfully sued him for 19 million dollars as reimbursement for not being able to play. Michael was also stripped of all his endorsements, which were already on shaky ground before the dog fighting charges surfaced.
Vick, who had developed a lavish and luxurious lifestyle, was now left with no money, a huge debt growing by the day and legions of people calling for his head. His world was crumbling down around him and it appeared to many onlookers that his career was over and his life would never be the same.
Clearly distraught and desperate to reclaim the pieces of shattered glory he once had, Vick proclaimed his determination to return to football at a press conference before his incarceration, “I offer my deepest apologies to everyone. And, I will redeem myself, I have to”.
When the smoke cleared 21 months later, a new man emerged from the Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary, ready to work for his redemption.
When Vick was finally released from prison, after almost two years, the public had mixed reactions. No one had forgotten what he did; many people weren’t satisfied with Vick’s time behind bars and wanted the NFL to continue punishment by banning him from playing forever.
However, Vick was not banned from the NFL, and through the tutelage of beloved former Colts head coach Tony Dungy and several meetings with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, Vick was approved to play football again.
The odds were still stacked against him. In high-level professional sports like the NFL, the game changes so quickly that players and coaches need to constantly study and practice to maintain their form. Several weeks away from the game is usually enough to make players rusty, but a two-year absence seemed insurmountable, especially for a quarterback.
Vick’s comeback, however, has been nothing short of amazing. Vick would eventually sign with the Philadelphia Eagles, and although he had a minimal role in his first season with Philly, it was enough to be unanimously voted for the Ed Brock Courage Award by his teammates.
This season, Vick got his shot at starting quarterback duties with the Eagles after Kevin Cobb went down with injury and he hasn’t looked back. He proved that he not only still had his youthful athleticism and maintained his throwing arm, but actually had developed his passing skills in his time off out of nowhere. Vick has become an efficient pocket passer – so efficient, in fact, that he currently leads the league in passer rating with 106.0, something that he would have never achieved before.
After three years away from the game of professional football, Vick is playing the best football of his career and is even in the running for the NFL most valuable player award, something that the old Vick couldn’t do. He has paid his debt to society, lost almost everything, and, in the face of tremendous adversity, has turned his life around for the better. Through hard work and dedication, he has become a better player and a better man than he ever was before. A truly amazing turnaround, by a truly amazing athlete.