Thursday, November 25, 2010

Michael Vick – NFL Player of the Year and a great deal to be thankful for

Today is a day many people give thanks for the life they are living and often look back at the year they have lived focusing on the times they are experiencing. Tiger Woods has had a year he might like to do all over, but at the end of the day Tiger paid the price for his self created sins. If Tiger thinks about the next 365 days of his life he might be blessed to be were Michael Vick is today and were Michael Vick was a year ago. While Michael Vick may never truly reach the road to redemption in the eyes of most people, but the steps he has taken forward in the last year suggest at the very least Michael Vick is moving forward in creating a better life for himself. He may never fully pay for the sins of his past but at the least by all appearances he seemingly is a better man then he once was.

Vick appears on the cover of the latest Sports Illustrated, a piece entitled: “What Michael Vick tells us about ourselves”, a very good question. Vick was on top of the world in 2007. One of the best players in the National Football League, there were a series of allegations that Vick and several of his friends were involved in a dogfighting scheme and ended with Vick in jail for 18 months, his NFL career all but finished.

In August 2007, hours after Vick pleaded guilty to federal charges in the Bad Newz Kennels dog fighting investigation, the NFL suspended him indefinitely without pay. In a letter to Vick, Commissioner Roger Goodell said that Vick had admitted to conduct that was "not only illegal, but also cruel and reprehensible." While Vick is technically a first-time offender under the NFL's Personal Conduct Policy, Goodell handed down a harsher suspension because Vick admitted that he provided most of the money for the gambling side of the operation. Goodell left open the possibility of reinstating Vick depending on how he cooperated with federal and state authorities.

Goodell banned Vick from reporting to training camp while the league conducted its own investigation into the matter. At his July 26 arraignment, the terms of his bail barred him from leaving Virginia before the trial.

On August 27, Falcons owner Arthur Blank said in a press conference that the Falcons would seek to recover a portion of Vick's signing bonus. He said the team had no immediate plans to cut ties with Vick, citing salary-cap issues. It initially appeared that Goodell had cleared the way for the Falcons to release Vick, since he ruled that Vick's involvement in gambling activity breached his contract. On August 29, the Falcons sent a letter to Vick demanding that he reimburse them for $20 million of the $37 million bonus. The case was sent to arbitration and on October 10 an arbitrator ruled that Vick had to reimburse the Falcons for $19.97 million. The arbitrator agreed with the Falcons' contentions that Vick knew he was engaging in illegal activity when he signed his new contract in 2004 and that he had used the bonus money to pay for the operation.

The prospects of Vick returning to play professional football were the subject of a great deal of speculation. More than a few football fans (and non football fans) believed Michael Vick had lost the right to ever play on Sundays again. There would be no second chances for Michael Vick.

After his suspension, the most serious obstacles were the length of imprisonment and possible impact of probationary restrictions afterward. Vick's federal prison sentence was set to expire July 20, 2009, although he completed his sentence under house arrest at his home in Hampton, Virginia. The Virginia charges he faced were resolved and dropped in late 2008 with a suspended sentence.

During his incarceration, Vick's financial condition rapidly deteriorated due to virtually having no income and substantial ongoing expenses for attorneys, maintaining at least 6 luxury homes in Virginia, Georgia, and Florida, and providing living expenses and about 10 vehicles for friends and relatives. With debts millions of dollars in excess of assets, and facing judgments and collection efforts by some of the creditors, his attorneys filed for federal bankruptcy protection under Chapter 11 on his behalf in July 2008.

Vick's initial reorganization plan relied upon Vick again earning a very substantial income as a professional football player, which he could not assure the court. Testifying on April 3 in Newport News, Vick told the bankruptcy court judge that he believes he can play pro football for another 10 years. His agent, Joel Segal, testified that he hopes to secure Vick a well-paying contract to play football with another NFL team after his suspension is lifted and after the Falcons release him.

The Philadelphia Eagles were the NFL team to give Michael Vick that second chance. His two year contract signed on August 14, 2009 (early in the teams’ 2009 training camp) and first reported by ESPN looked like this. The first year of the deal was for $1.6 million with the second-year option worth $5.2 million, sources told ESPN's Chris Mortensen. Vick can also earn an additional $3 million in incentives over the two years of the contract, sources told's Len Pasquarelli.

Led by Donovan McNabb, Vick did not play very much for the Eagles in 2009. At the start of the 2010 season, Eagles coach Andy Reid’s starting quarterback was Kevin Kolb. In week one of the NFL season, Kolb suffered a concussion during the Eagles game the Green Bay Packers. Cleared to play two weeks later Eagles coach Andy Reid believed it was in the best interests of the Eagles to continue with Michael Vick as their starting quarterback relegating Kolb to the bench.

The rest, as the expression goes, is history:

In his second game as a starter versus the Jacksonville Jaguars, Vick led the Eagles to a 28–3 win, throwing for 291 yards and three touchdowns as well as rushing for a touchdown. He was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Month for the month of September. Vick suffered a rib cartilage injury in a week 4 game against the Redskins, and was replaced by Kolb. Vick had gone 5-for-7 for 49 yards with three carries for 17 yards prior to the injury. However while Kolb wasn’t given the chance to start when he had recovered from his injury, Vick returned as the Eagles starter as soon as he was medically cleared to do so.

On November 15, in a week 10 Monday Night Football matchup against the Washington Redskins, Vick passed for 333 yards and four touchdowns, while he rushed for 80 yards and another two touchdowns. Vick threw an 88-yard touchdown pass to DeSean Jackson on the first play from scrimmage in the game and went on to lead the Eagles to a 59–28 victory. Vick was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week following his performance against his former teammate McNabb. The Pro Football Hall of Fame requested his game jersey to display after Vick became the first player to pass for three touchdowns and rush for two touchdowns in the first half of a game.

The praise has come from nearly everyone including the man who made an example of Michael Vick in 2005. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who tossed Vick out of the league establishing his ‘no nonsense’ approach to player behaviour off the football field, expressed his opinion about Vick’s play.

"There is a big message in what Michael is doing," Goodell told the Daily News Thursday morning, "He's a superstar athlete who everyone thought had everything in the world. He fell from grace tragically by making some horrific mistakes, paid a significant price, worked his way back in and now he's being successful. It demonstrates to me to get to these young men earlier and work with them and make them understand their responsibility making decisions that will define them for a period of time."

Goodell realizes what the resurrection of Michael Vick represents to the NFL. Goodell’s 11-year old son wears a Philadelphia Eagles Vick jersey. In a year were allegations against Ben Roethlisberger (Goodell suspended the Steelers quarterback for the Steelers first four games of the 2010 season) and allegations about Brett Favre’s behaviour have not helped the image of the NFL, how and what Michael Vick does is very important to the image of the National Football League.

“My main concerns were off the field. He's done terrific off the field. I'm proud of how he has responded. There are so many examples in our society of failure, people falling short. We need more success stories. I'm hoping Michael Vick will be a success story. People need to see that. People need to be inspired by that - a person made a tragic error and he's overcome it.

"It's a good lesson," added Goodell. "There is not anybody out there who has not made mistakes."

Earlier this week Vick was in Connecticut making appearances on behalf of the Humane Society of the United States sharing with people the mistakes he had made in life.

"I hear frequently about the different speaking engagements he's going to and the impact that he has when he goes," Goodell said. "He's obviously taken responsibility for his actions, been accountable and focuses now on what he can do to make others aware of the fact that you have to conduct yourself properly and make good decisions. I thought the decisions he made with dogfighting were horrific. He's turning himself in the right direction. For that, I'm very proud of him."

Sunday night the Eagles met the New York Giants on NBC’s Sunday Night Football, another ratings winner for NBC. More than 23.2 million people tuned in for at least part of the game, the return of Michael Vick has been a ratings winner for the network fortunate enough to feature Michael Vick.

According to a USA Today report: Vick is drawing the kind of TV ratings usually reserved for glamour QB's like Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts and Tom Brady of the New England Patriots. Despite the lopsided score, Eagles-Redskins MNF game two weeks ago still averaged a 10.8 TV rating and 15 million viewers Monday.

Vick’s two year contract ends when the 2010 season does and while NFL Armageddon might be the biggest NFL off season story with regards to the business of the NFL, Michael Vick’s next contract will be one of the biggest player stories. Whether the Eagles tag Vick as their franchise player (forcing the team of offer Vick a one-year contract worth just over $16 million) or he becomes a free agent Michael Vick’s next contract is going to worth a great deal of money to Vick.

According to Pro Football Talk, Vick who was once a darling on Madison Avenue (in terms of his endorsements) Vick without any commercial endorsements might be on the verge of a very big shoe contract, calling it a “monster shoe deal”.

"I'm proud we were the team that gave him a second chance," Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie told "I think the country is really built around this. It's an important principle. Because he served his time. If he didn't serve his time? There's not a chance in hell we would've done this.

"I felt he understood how horrible that culture he participated in was," says Lurie. "It wasn't just what he lost." Yes, Vick had every reason to be at his humble best. "That was the judgment call: You didn't know," Lurie says. "Of course he could say all the right things. That's why I tried hard to read his eyes and expressions. You can read someone's genuine empathy or warmth or regret; it's hard to fake. Even the best actors you can see through. I could really see an amazing regret, a terrible regret."

Only time will tell if Michael Vick has truly been reborn but if you listen to what he said to Sports Illustrated indeed Michael Vick may have learnt some very important lessons.

"I had to go through what I went through to be where I am now. I find myself in a position where I'm willing to listen; I've got coaches who are going to coach me regardless of what or how I feel. If I've got an attitude one day, or not just feeling it at the moment—I'm going to get coached, and they don't care: You step on that field, you better be ready. And I respect that to the fullest. It brings out the best in me.

"Every day is a challenge," Vick told SI last week. "Still. Right now. And it will probably be that way next year and the year after. So nothing's going to change. That means I've got to change."

Only time will tell if Michael Vick has changed. He will forever be tainted by the sins of his past. He will forever be looked at with one eye open and the other eye weary as to whether or not he is a changed man. Those are the challenges people face when they have made mistakes but at least on Thanksgiving Day 2010, Michael Vick is working hard at making amends for his past sins – and Michael Vick can be thankful for that.

For this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: Wikipedia, ESPN and SI

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