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From dog house to center stage with just one Vick-tory?

September 21, 2010

After seven outstanding quarters of football, Michael Vick has reclaimed the permanent starter role for a NFL team. Earlier today, Andy Reid did an about-face and announced that Vick will be his starting quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles.

This is a notable event for two reasons. 1) Quarterback Kevin Kolb was considered the heir apparent last year and played well enough that the Eagles took the highly unusual step of trading Donovan McNabb to an intra-division rival, the Washington Redskins. Kolb played very well in two starts last year while McNabb was injured, which made the McNabb trade possible. 2) Michael Vick should be a public relations nightmare. He’s a former financer of a dog fighting ring and has admitted to the killing of dogs that did not pass muster.

However, both of those reasons are based on past decisions and Vick has paid his debt to the state. In the here and now, Michael Vick has shown nothing short of shocking success on the field and thus must be rewarded with the opportunity to retain the starters role.

Additionally, the Eagles have an awful and gimpy offensive line at the moment. The Eagles offense crashed and burned at the end of last year when center Jamaal Jackson was lost.  Well, he’s lost again this year. The left tackle is battered and the right guard is undersized. These are big problems that are hard to game plan around. A bad offensive line can’t protect a pocket passer like Kolb. If the Eagles want to salvage the season they need Vick’s feet. Next year they can rebuild the offensive line so Kolb can flourish, put him out there now and he’s going to turn into a punching bag with no career.

In terms of their new starting quarterback’s past, the Eagles, the NFL and Vick have done an exemplary job rebuilding a career and making the most of a second chance for a convicted animal abuser and gambling profiteer.

There’s no doubt that Vick’s past will haunt him for the rest of his days. No matter how well he plays and whatever accolades he earns, Vick will never be able to bury his past and no rehabilitation will change that. However, his past should also not prohibit his chance to make a living, even a living that means a weekly showcase in front of the enormous NFL viewing audience and playing for one of the league’s premier teams.

At the end of the day, no matter what your feelings regarding Vick, he has to be given the opportunity to do his job and do it successfully. You don’t need to like him, you don’t need to buy his jersey, you can even wish for another 14 Eagles losses because they had the audacity to hire a dog killer, but he has to be given the opportunity to pursue his career.

I’ve had the somewhat unusual opportunity to work with convicted murderers, abusers, and drug dealers. I had the job of telling their story to audiences around the Philadelphia metro area, to educate as well as fund raise for the social service organization that employed me. It’s an odd feeling working with a murderer to develop a speech he’s going to give at a black-tie affair. On the one hand, he’s shown 20-plus years of rehabilitation, he’s earned a bachelor’s and Master’s degree and he’s a social worker who counsels convicts on how to get their lives right. He’s a shining example of what rehabilitation means. And yet, the person he killed is still dead. And the family of that person still grieves.

So how do you reconcile those two things? You realize that the person didn’t get away with it. The murderer spend 20+ years in prison and lost most of his life. Vick spent two years in prison and went bankrupt. Does that equal the loss of life they inflicted? No. But this isn’t about fairness. The world isn’t set-up for equality. Sometimes good things happen to bad people. God willing they learn from their mistakes and become beacons of change. And sometimes they just luck out. So we make sure we remember.

Mr. Vick, I’m a HUGE Eagles fan. I’m going to cheer with every touchdown you score, tempered with the knowledge that I still remember what you did, so don’t expect to see any Vick memorabilia around my house. However, I’m going to support your play, because to do otherwise would just perpetuate the cycle of violence and despair.

[Edit 10/1/10: Bill Simmons of ESPN just wrote and article articulating my sentiments much more thoroughly. Well done Bill! http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=simmonsnfl2010/101001]

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