From the November 27th issue of "The Real Views"
Most professional athletes who fall from grace for personal or legal reasons never return to their former glory while atoning for their transgressions. Sure, Jason Giambi had several good years after publicly admitting using steroids in 2004, but he didn’t embark on a nationwide tour preaching against the dangers of steroid use. Gilbert Arenas, after being sentenced to two years probation for illegally bringing in and storing weapons in his locker at the Verizon Center (and serving a suspension for half the 2009-10 NBA season), wrote a thoughtful apology in the Washington Post and promised to be a better role model, but his ppg and assists are down significantly and his Wizards are 5-10. And Tiger Woods has been featured more on Taiwanese television than in America since his all-too-public fall from grace, earning less money in 2010 than in any year as a professional golfer.
It seems that though many professional athletes run into trouble, personal and legal, that it is all too rare that they come back and successfully repair their public images while performing exceptionally on the field of play. After returning to the NFL with a 23 month sentence for his involvement in running a dogfighting ring behind him, Michael Vick has done more this season to rehabilitate his image on and off the field than any professional athlete in recent memory. Vick, somehow has bucked that trend mightily, and in such a manner that Andy Reid has stuck with his hot hand in spite of the fact that Kevin Kolb, named starter at QB to begin the season, has played well, led his team to a couple of wins, and has a respectable 85.3 passer rating in 7 games this year.
Vick’s on-going apology has been remarkably earnest, if imperfect, and robust even if not well-received (Philly Mayor Michael Nutter is an exception, endorsing Vick on Meet the Press on November 28). He has reached out to PETA (http://bit.ly/gdP6Q) and the ASPCA (http://bit.ly/x1sJv) and the Humane Society (http://es.pn/11Cwx2) in attempts to discourage youth from engaging in the behavior that led him to lose millions of dollars in endorsements and the respect of many fans and gain as ardent enemies animal lovers across the world. And though it was an ill-fated television show, he even contracted with Black Entertainment Television to air “The Michael Vick Project” in order to tell his personal story to television viewers and have cameras follow him around as he introduced the world to the context of his upbringing.
Though he has many detractors (read:haters) who remain, keep Vick’s efforts at earnestly apologizing and carrying through on his promises to make things right in perspective. Roger Clemens never apologized for cheating, and neither did Brett Favre (the former allegedly with steroids, the latter allegedly via cell phone), but one could imagine that if they did, they would be admonished and then soon forgiven. Tony Hayward (of BP infamy) apologized his bum off, but I don’t think for a second that anyone bought his mawkish sincerity or that of any of the actors he trotted out over the coming months claiming to want to “make (things) right.” And have you heard a single apology from the CEOs of Countrywide, Lehman Brothers, AIG, and the many other companies whose malfeasance is the cause for the decline in American economic prosperity we are facing today? What is their penance? Being fired and retiring with multi-million dollar golden parachutes and no jail time? Vick made horrible mistakes in his life, did jail time and paid restitution and loss millions in earnings as a result. He has asked fans, those whom he offended, and even Jesus for forgiveness (http://bit.ly/fMOPJu). In the America that we often tout as a land of second chances, where a man has the right to earn a living and pursue his dreams legally, the hate towards Vick is disproportionate, and frankly, poorly targeted. If only Angelo Mozillo were an NFL quarterback …
However, if Vick’s life off of the field has been scandalized, his performance on the field, as Dave Chappelle would say, has been “scandal-proof.” With a 108.5 passer rating, he’s led the Philadelphia Eagles to first place in the NFC East, a 7-3 record (5-1 as a starter), and has not thrown a single interception all season. His November 15th MNF performance may have been the most amazing statistical performance ever by an NFL quarterback, accounting for six touchdowns, 413 total yards, and becoming the first NFL QB to ever accumulate 300+ passing yards, 50+ rushing yards, 4+ passing TDs, and 2+ rushing TDs in a single game. All of this has come in the wake of an 11-5 season in 2009, after which the Eagles traded their star quarterback Donovan McNabb and left huge shoes to fill (the Eagles had gone to five NFC Championship games and a Super Bowl under McNabb). Vick is on pace to throw for 2,500 yards and 17-20 passing touchdowns (while running for 8 more). Sure, it’s not the 4,500 yards and 33 touchdowns that 2009 NFL MVP Peyton Manning accounted for, but he is also on a pace rushing the ball that would make him the leading rusher on Indy’s 2010 team. And he’s led and won in every way that a quarterback can, rushing for over 100 yards vs. Green Bay, throwing for three touchdowns and 291 yards vs. Jacksonville, and in his worst statistical game of the year, threw for 258 yards and ran for a touchdown in a win against NFC East rival New York Giants.
A Michael Vick who remains injury-free, throws for 20 or more touchdowns and 2,500+ yards and leads Philly to an NFC East championship and a healthy playoff run (NFC Championship or better) is my lock for 2010 NFC MVP (otherwise, it’s obviously Drew Brees, and maybe a resurgent Cowboys team makes Jason Garrett third!). No one player has been any more important to his team’s success after 10 weeks of the NFL season, and if he continues on this pace, his story will continue to serve as hyper-controversial to many (if not most), but redemptive all the same to one Michael Vick.
Besides, Manning is running out of mantle space by now, and what the hell is Tom Brady gonna do with another trophy, besides marry it?
nb: as of 12/10, the 1st place Eagles are 8-4, and Vick has thrown for 2,243 yards, 15 TDs, and accounted for 21 TDs.