By STEVE HUMMER
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 09/03/07
Two days after Michael Vick took his medicine before the federal judge in Richmond, Art Schlichter was in the same city continuing his 2007 Redemption Tour. They could have hung a convention banner over the Jeff Davis Highway: "Welcome Troubled Quarterbacks."
It's unfortunate the two never got to meet over grits and gravy, because there aren't too many better references Vick could thumb through on what awaits him and where to go from here.
"I'd be happy to sit down and talk to Mike in a quiet setting, and let him know what he's facing," Schlichter said in a recent telephone interview.
It's not an expertise one advertises in the Yellow Pages, but on the subject of quarterbacks who plummet from grace, Schlichter, 47, has more answers than Google.
There were times in his career he made Vick look like a seminary student. As a gambler who would chase one losing bet after another like a hamster on a wheel, the 1982 first-round pick (Baltimore Colts) out of Ohio State became a prime exhibit on the wasting of a career. There wasn't a chance he wouldn't squander. By 1983, the NFL suspended him because of his gambling, his losses already approaching seven figures. Reinstated the next year, he was out of the NFL by the 1986 preseason. Resorting to various swindles to backfill his gambling losses, Schlichter would spend 10 years in numerous jails and prisons between 1995 and 2006.
What brought Schlichter to Richmond was an appearance for a new gambling treatment center there, Williamsville Wellness. Since last being released from prison 15 months ago, he has attempted to become a witness to the darkest side of gambling. This is his route to redemption, his continuing therapy â€” telling and retelling one of the most painful failures in football. He has his own nonprofit foundation â€” its Web site is http://www.gamblingpreventionawareness.org
â€” and speaks as much as twice a week from that platform.
"It used to be all about the Rose Bowl, about beating Michigan, about becoming an NFL player and making money," he said. "Now I just want a chance to live a life like anyone else, and be a decent dad (he has two teenage daughters living with his ex-wife in Indiana). It's hard to make up for all that lost time, but I'm trying."
Schlichter, always able to get by on charisma and glibness, knows that he has created a large group of skeptics out there. Winning them back will not be easy, as another fallen quarterback in the news will find.
"One of the things Mike faces is what I face. People don't trust you. But, then, I'm not asking people for anything other than to hear my story," Schlichter said.
"Regaining your credibility is a day-to-day battle. There's no quick fix, no pill you can take. Only action is going to make it better. There's nothing [Vick] is going to say now that will fix it. Nobody is going to believe anything he says. He'll have to earn his way back through his actions."
At the same time, Schlichter said he has found that the public has a deep capacity for forgiveness, when given enough reason. He has moved back to his old home area, 40 miles south of Columbus, Ohio, living with his mother while he tries to get his shattered finances in order. Once an outcast at his alma mater, he returned for a couple of Ohio State games last season. Old friends have reached out.
"It's the American way. Some love to tear you down if they have a chance, but most people like to see a success story," Schlichter said.
Meanwhile, a couple of tips for the one-time football star preparing to go to prison:
"I would advise Mike to go in with a lot of humility," Schlichter said. "I'd advise him to try to be like everyone else.
"If you walk in there expecting to get special treatment from the inmates or the guards, you're going to be disappointed. They don't take kindly to that. What I tried to do was keep my mouth shut and get to know some people I wouldn't normally have had the chance to meet. I kept my head down most of the time.
"There's a saying: Do the time, don't let the time do you."
It is one thing to survive the prison experience, and another to gain from it. That will be larger challenge for Vick, Schlichter said.
"You can't say anybody is going to be a changed man in prison until he's gone through it," he said. "You can take it one of two ways. You can take it as a learning experience, as a punishment and become a better person because of it. Or you can become bitter and resentful, and believe the world is out to get you â€” and become a worse person.
"At first, I came out angry. I thought I got a raw deal. That only led to more trouble," he said.
"I believe prison can change [Vick]. It can create in him a great humility, if he's any kind of person at all."
This is what passes for a playbook now in Vick's new world.