When a high school football star named Michael Vick visited Syracuse University, he was hosted by the big man on campus, quarterback Donovan McNabb. Today, McNabb is once again going to be hosting Vick and Vick will need his old friend to steer him through the rapids to come. We now know that Michael Vick will be a Philadelphia Eagle and the shock waves are causing the sports radio blabbocracy, animal rights activists, and even Vick supporters to twitch with concern. Many thought Vick wouldn’t be signed at all. And no one – repeat no one – thought it would be the Eagles, one of 26 teams that had said publicly they wouldn’t touch the former number 1 pick. Not after 23 months in Leavenworth for underwriting a dog fighting ring. But there are the Eagles, with the most skilled back up quarterback since Tom Brady was waiting his turn behind Drew Bledsoe. And without McNabb, the big man on campus, it doesn’t happen.
"I pretty much lobbied to get him here," McNabb told the Associated Press "I believe in second chances and what better place to get a second chance than here with this group of guys.” Andy Reid, whose own sons have had repeated and very public run ins with the law said, "I’m a believer that as long as people go through the right process, they deserve a second chance. He’s got great people on his side; there isn’t a finer person than [Vick advisor) Tony Dungy. He's proven he's on the right track."
The “right track” includes more than those 23 months in Leavenworth. Vick is already undergoing a full image rehab: he will be expressing full remorse on 60 minutes this Sunday. He will be working with the Humane Society. He will be speaking out on cruelty to animals, using his profile in the league to reach those many thousands – yes thousands - of people in this country for whom dog fighting is tragically a part of normal life.
PETA (the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) however did not even wait for the ink to dry on the contract before saying, "PETA and millions of decent football fans around the world are disappointed that the Eagles decided to sign a guy who hung dogs from trees. He electrocuted them with jumper cables and held them under water," PETA spokesman Dan Shannon told The Associated Press. "You have to wonder what sort of message this sends to young fans who care about animals and don't want them to be harm.” It sends a message that spending almost two years of Leavenworth might entitle you to a second chance. I don’t know if PETA thinks that Vick should be locked in a cage for life, or shot, but either way they look to be picking up from their ugly demonstrations held outside the courthouse during Vick’s trial.
But PETA is going to be the least of Vick’s problems. Sal Paolontonio, the veteran Philadelphia based sports reporter was on the grand concourse of a packed Philadelphia football stadium when the news broke. He said, “In 25 years of covering sports in this town, this is the most shocking story. This is visceral There is lot of anger (in the fans). It is 90 to 95% negative. There is a lot of anger. I have been listening to sports radio. It is overwhelmingly negative.”
The great sportswriters` DK WIlson from the website Sports on my Mind reported that Philadelphia sports radio host Dan Schwartzman was saying, “From a football standpoint it makes sense. But he’s coming into our community. I’m thinking of the larger picture...I don’t think I’m being harsh in calling Vick The Boogeyman. I don’t think I’m being harsh in saying you don’t want Michael Vick around your kids..”
One caller said, “This only goes to prove how hypocritical this scumbag organization is…. and they bring in Public Enemy Number one? This guy is a scumbag…. There’s no forgiveness in my heart.”
Later, according to D-Wil, another caller said, “To let go of the heart of this organization and in the same offseason you bring in the Boogeyman in Michael Vick?” The cover of the Philadelphia Daily News is an unflattering picture of Vick and the headline, “Hide Your Dogs.”
Hide your dogs and hide your kids because there are clearly people in Philadelphia ready to make Vick football’s Willie Horton. Maybe these health care townhall’s have inspired the fringes of the sports world to embrace their hatreds and fears as virtues. Maybe in this climate the fringes just crave their Boogeymen, like a drug addict shaking for their fix.
Ron Jaworski, the former Eagles quarterback and Monday Night Football commentator, said with far more insight, “I think he deserves a second chance without question. But when you look at the 32 cities where Vick could fit in, Philadelphia is number 32.” Jaworski referenced the “passion” of Philly fans creating a difficult environment. But this passion cuts both ways. While Philly has a history of hostility toward “controversial” African American players, they also embraced the passion and wicked fury of former76er Allen Iverson. If Vick gets it done on the field, I can see the Philly fans flipping from hostility to being fiercely protective of number 7.
It helps to have Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb in Vick’s corner. It helps that people like Tony Dungy and Warren Moon have Vick’s back. It helps that Vick is working with the humane society. But it helps the most that the players have his back.
Eagles cornerback Ellis Hobbs said, “He’s definitely going to be embraced. The NFL is a fraternity of brothers. When you bring in a guy who’s been through the things that he’s been through, you want to surround him and protect him as much as possible because everybody’s out there throwing stones at him.”
It would help even more if we are collectively realize that in a country of 2.3 million people behind bars, being an ex-felon shouldn’t mean having an F tattooed on your chest for eternity