For the last two years Michael Vick, the talented quarterback who once led the Atlanta Falcons National Football League (NFL) franchise, has been a pariah due to his conviction on charges of funding and participating in a dog fighting operation. For that transgression, Vick lost his $130 million deal with the Falcons, product endorsements, and 18 months in a federal penitentiary. Most noticeably, Vick became the poster boy for animal rights groups and others, some of whom seemed particularly gleeful to see the downfall of this talented Black athlete.
When he was released from the Fort Leavenworth federal prison in Kansas, millions of dollars in debt, it appeared that his sentence would not satisfy some detractors who seemed intent on denying him a second chance despite his having made his debt to society. Upon his release, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell ruled that Vick could play again, after he completed a six-week suspension. Just when things appeared to be looking up for Michael Vick, there will still public calls protesting his return to professional football. Luckily, for Vick, two Black men stepped up in a way that contradicts all of the rhetoric about Black men, and all of the mythology around the notion that Black Americans are divided by jealousy, envy and pettiness.
The first to come to Vick’s aide was former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungee, the first Black coach to lead a team to a Super Bowl championship. A class act and a man of deep faith, Dungee has taken on the role of mentor to Vick and has been at his side during the quarterback’s ordeal. Michael Vick could have no better example to lead him back to the good graces of society and regain his self-respect. Dungee knows a thing or two about overcoming adversity and his counsel will serve Vick well not just on the field, but in embracing the powerful role the quarterback can play out of uniform.
When Vick went about the business of talking to prospective teams about the possibility of playing, he likely was not enthusiastically received by many owners, despite his enormous talents. That is why Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb deserves praise for the manner in which he vouched for Michael Vick and encouraged his team to sign the former Atlanta star. It would have been easy for McNabb, himself a star quarterback, to remain silent and protect his own starting role on the Philadelphia franchise. We suspect McNabb was motivated two considerations. First, he is a competitor, respects the talents of Vick, and wants the Eagles to win. Second, and most importantly, we believe McNabb is sensitive to the plight of Black quarterbacks and understands the mountain that Vick has to overcome to resuscitate his career. It was a remarkable gesture of humility and grace on McNabb’s part to speak up when his friend needed a friend most. For a league that once deemed Blacks incapable of playing the quarterback position, the McNabb-Vick connection is a remarkable story.
What has played out as a personal tragedy, potentially another story of the tragic downfall of an enormously gifted athlete, now has all the markings of a story of personal redemption, mainly due to two Black men who refused to sit by idly and watch another fall to the wayside. For all the rhetoric we hear about how Blacks do not support each other and how we too often remain silent to the suffering of others, what has transpired in the case of Michael Vick refutes such notions. It is a lesson that should be taken to heart by those of us in the workplace when we see our colleagues unfairly maligned or subjected to terminal punishment for mistakes, even after they have made amends.
Michael Vick will rebound on the field; his enormous talents and the guidance of Donovan McNabb will make him an important part of the Philadelphia Eagles. He will also redeem himself off the field because he has Tony Dungee as his mentor and McNabb as a friend. We wish Michael Vick only the best and we will be rooting for him every time he takes a snap this season in a Philadelphia uniform. He paid his debt to society and should not be subject to the constant haranguing of animal rights activists. Enough is enough. Would it not be poetic justice if this team with two talented Black quarterbacks made it to the Super Bowl? Now that would be justice served!