By Mark Bradley | Monday, August 27, 2007, 02:46 PM
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Richmond, Va. â€” Once he posed for this newspaper dressed in a Superman shirt. On Monday he stood in a courtroom and later in a hotel ballroom, no longer invulnerable or impervious, a god-like hero revealed as all too human.
On the day he became a convicted felon, Michael Vick indicated that he, perhaps contrary to popular belief, has both a heart and a conscience. When he turned toward his family after court was adjourned, his look was one of abject shame. His blue suit seemed a size too large, adding to the sensation that this 27-year-old athlete was somehow just a little boy gone way, way wrong.
Forty-five minutes later and two blocks away, Vick met the assembled media for the first time in 3-1/2 months. He deflected nothing. (â€œIâ€™m not pointing fingers,â€ he said, twice.) He kept using the word â€œtotally,â€ saying, â€œIâ€™m totally disappointed in myselfâ€ and â€œIâ€™m totally responsible.â€
He didnâ€™t read from a text. He walked to the podium and said, by way of introduction, â€œMost of my life Iâ€™ve been a football player, not a public speaker.â€ Then he made as graceful a speech as anyone will ever deliver on the worst day of his/her life. He apologized often. He admitted lying to Arthur Blank and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. (â€œI was ashamed,â€ he said.) He condemned dogfighting as â€œa terrible thingâ€ and said, â€œI do reject it.â€
And then this: â€œI offer my deepest apology to everybody out there in the world who was affected by this, and if Iâ€™m more disappointed with myself than anybody by this, itâ€™s because of all the young kids I let down â€¦ I hope that every young kid out there â€¦ will use me as an example to using better judgment and making better decisions.â€
In sum, he said all the things weâ€™ve waited to hear Michael Vick say, and he said them not as part of some legal bargain but as a plea to the rest of humankind. In his conspicuous devastation, he evinced the universal desire to be understood and, yes, forgiven.
He said heâ€™d â€œfound Jesusâ€ and â€œturned my life over to God,â€ and skeptics will note that a disproportionate number of religious conversions occur when the convert is about to become a convict. Somehow, though, nothing about Vick rang false this day. He kept saying, â€œYes, sirâ€ to Judge Henry Hudson, even as Hudson delineated all the rights a convicted felon forfeits â€” to vote, to bear arms, to serve on a jury â€” and then noted that, the plea bargain notwithstanding, he could serve the full five years if the judge so ordains. Did Vick understand?
Could this have been, as his lawyer Billy Martin said, our first post-dogfight look at â€œthe real Michael Vickâ€? (Martin: â€œWhat weâ€™ve seen is an aberration.â€) We can only hope. Vick will go to jail and serve his NFL suspension, and then thereâ€™ll be the rest of his life. It need not be a tale of woe. With the right amount of contrition (from him) and compassion (from us), it might even become a heartening story in three acts: The rise, the fall, the redemption.
Vick: â€œI will redeem myself. I have to.â€
The guy typing this should stipulate that he thought heâ€™d come to know the real Michael Vick years ago. The guy wrote, several times, that Vick was a decent fellow who cared deeply about doing the right things. On Monday the guy walked within three feet of Vick on the way out of the courtroom and tried twice to make eye contact. And twice Vick looked away, as if to say, â€œIâ€™m sorry I wasnâ€™t the person you thought.â€
It was a sobering spectacle, seeing this worker of athletic wonders admit to being a criminal. And if thatâ€™s the last we ever hear from Vick, this will have been, as Martin averred, â€œa tragic situation.â€ But as Michael Vick stood before the cameras, a humbled man trying not to cry but in no way trying to duck, hereâ€™s what the same guy thought:
Thereâ€™s hope for this one yet.
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