Dogfighting charges have put focus on Atlanta's quarterback in a way that makes him the poster boy for the brutal, gutless world of thugs.
August 15, 2007
BY RICK TELANDER Sun-Times Columnist
Thug life, baby. It seems Michael Vick was into it.
The Atlanta Falcons quarterback was cool and tough and cruel and macho, all the things ''bad guys'' are supposed to be.
There was the posse (Vick had one), the irresponsibility (he blew off a congressional breakfast held in his honor in Washington last spring), the arrest (for trespassing), the incidents (he was stopped for carrying a suspicious water bottle with a fake bottom at Miami International Airport; he was fined for giving the finger to the home crowd after a loss; he was humiliated after using the alias ''Ron Mexico'' after being sued for infecting a woman with a sexually transmitted disease), the bling, the excess, the carelessness.
Then there was the dogfighting indictment.
And that's where the one aspect of thug life that doesn't get enough attention popped up.
Two of Vick's co-defendants just cut deals with the federal prosecutors and have agreed to plead guilty in the dogfighting conspiracy -- a felony punishable by five years in prison -- and to testify against Vick.
That is, they are ready to roll over like terriers and sing like canaries.
These are Vick's buddies, remember.
These are his crew members -- Quanis ''Q'' Phillips and Purnell Peace -- who ratted out their ring leader like a sucking dog tick.
Phillips and Vick, indeed, have been described as ''best friends'' by insiders.
Vick, you may recall, said he had no idea what was going on at his blood-spattered 15-acre rural home in Virginia.
The more than four-dozen pit bulls and fighting stages and syringes and ''rape stands'' found at the back of his estate -- the dog buildings were painted black and hidden behind a black fence, by the way -- were just a mystery to Vick.
''It is a property that I am never there,'' he said at a news conference in April after the investigation was well on its way. ''I left the house to my family members and my cousin, and they just haven't been doing the right thing. It is unfortunate that I have to take the heat behind it.''
Of course it is.
Except that there are now buddies of his all over the place saying that Vick not only knew what was going on with ''Bad Newz Kennels,'' he was essentially the ringleader and financier.
''When it all boils down,'' Vick said at that news conference, ''people try to take advantage of you and leave you out to dry. Lesson learned for me.''
Reality check coming Friday
Vick tried to pass when he could, run when that failed, and now he has until Friday to change his plea to guilty and hope for a year or so in the slammer. Otherwise, he can go to trial in November and face extra charges and maybe many years in the joint in a case so tight with testimony, it squeaks.
All the principals seem to have turned on the quarterback, which is what bad guys do when they're offered you-or-your-best-friend deals.
It's the way bad guys are, call them thugs or renegades or gangstas or criminals or mafioso.
You can see it right here in Chicago as the ''Family Secrets'' mob trial unfolds, with brothers and even sons turning on each other as alleged murderer Frank Calabrese gets his day in the sunlight.
A year or so ago, I met in private with a close blood relative of Calabrese's, and the man told me of the horror the elder mobster had created right in his own home.
''He worshipped Adolf Hitler,'' the relative said of the alleged hitman, literally trembling with remembrance of past brutalities.
Thugs are just neo-bad guys, and as Al Pacino said in ''Scarface,'' we always ''need the bad guy.''
We do, yet it is still curious that Vick became one.
Blaming it on the culture
Generally, elite sports discipline precludes heinous criminal acts.
''I believe Vick got involved with breeding vicious pit bulls because rap-music culture made it the cool thing to do,'' sports columnist Jason Whitlock wrote recently. ''Vick didn't do it for the money. [He signed a 10-year, $130 million contract with the Falcons three years ago.] ... Vick was involved because ... he enjoyed it. He's a product of a culture that makes the 'profession' accceptable and honorable. It's the same profession that has turned the dope dealer into the mayor of the neighborhood.''
The analysis of thug life could go on for many pages, and its evolution could be shown to be a complex, multilayered, even tragic occurrence.
But one thing is for sure, and Vick knows it well after his own betrayal, his own lies.
Courage and manliness are not part of the deal.
Show me a good loser, and I'll show you a loser.
"None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm".
Henry David Thoreau
Fail to prepare and you prepare to fail.
"Luck is the residue of design." - Branch Rickey