No other active athlete will face such heavy public scrutiny as the former star quarterback attempts an NFL comeback. Vick’s name has become synonymous with dog fighting, a heinous crime that landed him a 23-month prison term slated to end July 20 (followed by three years of probation). He is scheduled to begin house arrest on May 20.
Vick wants to resume his football career, but immediate reinstatement isn’t a given. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has said Vick must genuinely show remorse and be “prepared to handle himself differently going forward.”
Vick, though, will have to convince more than Goodell if his comeback is to succeed. Vick needs to reinvent himself so at least some of the skeptical teams, fans, media members and animal-rights activists are willing to give him a second chance. Otherwise, Vick may remain such a pariah that no franchise will sign him. Atlanta has reportedly shopped Vick for a mere seventh-round draft pick. They found no takers for what was one of the NFL’s most physically gifted quarterbacks.
Vick’s representatives should already be formulating a plan to rebuild his image. No pun intended, but I’m willing to throw Vick a bone despite my utter disgust for what he did (my wife and I have eight pets — all of which were strays or rescue projects). Here are five suggestions for how Vick can help salvage his livelihood:
A mainstream mea culpa
Vick’s first sit-down interview shouldn’t come on a sports network. Try hitting Oprah or The View. These are shows that have more mainstream appeal and help influence public opinion, which has a trickle-down effect on media coverage. Vick also should receive a sympathetic ear provided he comes clean about what transpired. Public service announcements decrying dog fighting are a given. If the folks at PETA are not sympathetic, find another animal rights group that is. There are plenty out there.
Even after all that transpired, there are still friends and ex-teammates saying positive things about Vick. Vick’s representatives should try and make sure those voices are heard. Vick also would be wise to continue aligning himself with ex-NFL coach Tony Dungy, who recently visited him in prison. Dungy is one of the league’s most respected figures because of his strong religious beliefs and proactive charity work. A Dungy endorsement would go a long way publically and with Goodell.
Whether this coming season or next, Vick should eventually be reinstated. Unless able to finagle a trade — which seems a long shot at this point — the Falcons would release Vick rather than welcome him back on their roster. Before signing anywhere else, Vick should conduct a workout with television cameras allowed a la the NFL Scouting Combine to prove his skills haven’t eroded. This would help sway those NFL fans willing to forgive and forget — provided they thought Vick would help their team win.
But he shouldn’t stop there. Vick should then conduct a youth football clinic immediately afterward that includes a speech about avoiding the same mistakes he made. Atlanta would be a perfect site. Vick caused so much damage in that community with his actions that trying to make amends would help a healing process that is still ongoing almost two years later.
Money and play-time opportunity are major factors in where Vick will sign, but they shouldn’t be the biggest. Vick must join a club willing to stand by him and endure all the headaches his signing would bring (protests, maniacal media coverage, potential loss of advertisers, etc.). That franchise needs to have a well-prepared plan for how to best handle Vick’s arrival. If not, the circus that will ensue could tear down the entire team.
Even if able to reinvent himself, Vick should always remember how quickly public opinion could change with one more misstep. He can’t revert to his ostentatious ways with ridiculous spending that has landed him in bankruptcy court. He can no longer hit the nightlife like some of his peers. He can’t have any more brushes with the law.
This may sound like a bleak existence for a 28-year-old accustomed to a charmed life before his prison stay. But at least he will be getting a second opportunity. The same can’t be said for the dogs that were slaughtered.
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