Way back in 2009, when former-NFL-star-turned-convict-turned-new-NFL-star Michael Vick got out of prison and signed with the Philadelphia Eagles, I wrote a piece in the NDG Monitor welcoming him back to society and the sports world.

In light of his new $100 million contract with the Eagles, signed this week, I thought it appropriate to re-post that piece and it’s follow-up here.

For the record, I still stand by what I said in those columns and I’m happy Vick has risen from the ashes. Redemption and sport go hand in hand – as a one-time convict, Vick still needs to be held to a high standard, but in the meantime I congratulate him.

From the NDG Monitor, originally published Aug. 18, 2009.

WelcomE back, Michael Vick

If ever there was a player who represented a classic fall from grace, it’s new Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick.

Photo courtesy The Monitor

We don’t need to get into the details of Vick’s well-documented transgressions, but the quick summary is that at the peak of his career – and earning power – he was busted for running a dog fighting ring and was subsequently prosecuted and jailed, and suspended from the National Football League.

At the time of Vick’s arrest, he was the highest-paid player in North America’s biggest sports league – a star still on the rise with a decent-enough Atlanta Falcons team around him that it seemed like nothing but the sky would be his limit.

Flash forward a couple of years and change since the whole deal went down and Vick is now out of jail, having paid his penance, and has signed a two-year deal to back up Donovan McNabb with the Eagles.

Which brings us to the topic at hand: Should Michael Vick be allowed to resume his professional football career.

Of course, I’m not the only one to address this topic in the media, but I felt compelled to weigh in following a conversation I was involved in with some family members and a visitor around the dinner table a few weeks ago.

After all, the most important court of opinion in sports isn’t in the pages of a daily newspaper or website, it’s in front of an HD flat screen on Sunday.

Look, what Vick did was terrible – fighting and killing dogs for the sake not only of one’s pleasure, but also for profit, is a truly despicable act. But we live in a society that believes in reform and that people can grow up and learn from their mistakes. You may not be able to change a leopard’s spots, but with the right guidance, you can certainly teach it not to eat you.

Our guest the night of our Vick debate did not agree – in fact, he went as far as to compare Vick to a child molester. Sorry, friend, that’s apples and oranges.

As far as any of us know, Vick is not a murderer, he is not a child molester, he is not a rapist. He is a human being who made a terrible mistake and paid for it by rotting for two years in a jail cell. He’ll continue to pay for it with the looks and comments from anyone he crosses for the rest of his life. Should he have been jailed for his acts? Absolutely. Does he deserve a second chance? 100 per cent.

Like a Republican accusing a Democrat of being unfaithful to his wife, he who casts the first stone should definitely make sure he doesn’t live in a glass house. By no means are we a society of dog killers, but we all make mistakes.

Vick made a bigger one than most, but if he truly has learned his lesson and will use his fame and money to make our world just a little bit better from now on, then sign me up for a Number 7 Eagles jersey…

Well, only if the Jets don’t make the playoffs.

And the follow-up, published Aug. 25, 2009 in the NDG Monitor

Vick & Rose suffering from the same rush to judgement

I’ve received quite a bit of feedback over the last week concerning my column about welcoming Michael Vick back with open arms – albeit with a long memory and a short leash, so to speak.

Photo courtesy The Monitor

What Vick did was a horrible thing, but the point of my last column wasn’t to give him a free pass, rather, it was to say people make mistakes and while his was worse than some others I can think of, it wasn’t the kind of mistake a person can never recover from.

Like I said then and I stand by now, Vick has paid his penance and now deserves a shot to make things as right as he can and to use his massive celebrity to further good causes – notably animal rights.

If I were on PETA’s governing board, the first thing I’d do now that he’s back in action is sign him on as my top spokesperson.

Who better to champion animal rights than someone who has experienced the dark side of animal cruelty? If Vick really is a changed man, this would be a great opportunity to move animal rights into the forefront of society.

The principal argument I’ve heard against Vick being allowed back into the NFL and against him getting a second chance was well reflected in last week’s reader comments like “No, he does not “deserve” a second chance in the NFL. No, he does not belong in a position that influences children. PERIOD.”

A lot of the hatred for Vick seems to come from the old “athletes are role models” argument, which essentially says that a person with his profile shouldn’t be allowed to make mistakes.

Well, why not? Are athletes not people? Are people supposed to be infallible?

This morning, I read an article about how Pete Rose has potentially lost millions of dollars due to his betting-related ban from baseball. In that article, I read what I found to be one of the most compelling pro-Rose, pro-Vick, pro-anyone-who-hasn’t-committed-rape-or-murder arguments I’ve ever come across: “If his record were clean, ‘Charlie Hustle’ would be a no-brainer for people. He was the embodiment of the All-American way, a hard-working, get down and get dirty guy.”

That quote, from CNBC.com’s “SportsBiz by Darren Rovell” was from a memorabilia company VP named Bobby Mintz who feels that Rose’s ban from baseball has hurt the value of his merchandise and autograph.

And he’s probably right.

But, why, I wonder, have people abandoned Rose for his mistake? Yes, what Rose did was completely wrong – you don’t bet on the sport you’re in, it’s that simple. I think Mintz summed up the error on the part of fans and collectors by saying he was the embodiment of the All-American way – until he was caught gambling on baseball.

But isn’t part of the “All-American” way being able to build your life from scratch or pick up the pieces, learn from your mistakes, and do it again?

How many people fail the first time around before launching a successful business? How many people learn from their mistakes and make something of their lives? Hey, even Marky Mark went to jail as a teenager and was caught not only throwing rocks at black kids, but once robbed a pharmacy while high on PCP and partially blinded a woman.

Does that mean he shouldn’t be able to work as an actor today? No, he clearly learned from his mistakes and has turned what he learned into one of the most successful movie careers of his time. In my eyes, Mark Wahlberg is a better example of the true American Dream to me than someone who has never faltered along the way.

Vick and Rose are the same; they just made their mistakes while owning a higher profile.

The saying goes “fool me once, shame on you – fool me twice, shame on me.” The point is that almost everyone deserves a second chance. For the most part, I draw my line at rapists, murderers and child molesters. Just remember that you’re also only human when you draw your own.