The Michael Vick Paradox

[Note by JasonB, 05/11/11 10:10 PM EDT ] Our goal here at BGN is more than anything to promote and grow the community of Eagles fans. So we always want to highlight the fine work being done by... you. So enjoy NorthernEagles' English essay.

So I am in High School, and my English Teacher wanted us to do an essay on someone who has had a remarkable journey in life.  As an Eagles Fan, Vick was the first person that came to mind, so I wrote it about him.  Posted it here to see if all of you agree with me and that prison allowed Vick to become a better player and person...Essay is after the jump.  

Just to let you know, I got an 86, Not enough Analysis.

The Vick Paradox

With cold chains draped around his wrists and around his torso, he walks slowly, head down, surrounded by three police officers.  With one officer in front leading the way and another two only a few steps behind him, one holding the end of the chains, he knows there is no escape.  He walks to the police car, a far cry from one of the nine luxury cars that he is normally drives.  He is headed to Leavenworth Prison, a medium security facility located in Kansas, 1,170 miles away from his illegal dogfighting operation at 1915 Moonlight Road, Surry County, Virginia.  Guilty of operating an interstate dogfighting ring, Michael Vick, a rising superstar on his way of becoming a premier NFL quarterback, is sentenced to 21 months in Prison.

        Michael Vick is now one of the most famous athletes in the world.  He is either loved or hated, and debate still rages on about the issue of whether he should have been given a second chance.  On February 26th, 2011, Michael Vick was honored by the Southeastern Virginian Arts Association as he "epitomized the meaning of ‘hero’ not only by his unparalleled accomplishments on the football field, but more importantly, by his relentless resilience in overcoming the obstacles he has faced . . . and becoming a true example of life success for all to emulate" (Smith). However, not everyone agrees with this assessment of Vick.  On December 29th, 2010, Tucker Carlson, a political analyst for Fox News, said "Michael Vick killed dogs, and he did (it) in a heartless and cruel way...I think, personally, he should have been executed for that" (Wes).  The debate surrounding Michael Vick has only gotten more intense with his recent rise to stardom, and it will continue to be a matter of contention long after Michael Vick has retired from football.  As one of the most skilled and controversial athletes in recent times, Michael Vick would not be able to play at the level he is able to play at today without the tragic and horrific events that occurred throughout his journey.
        Michael Vick endured numerous hardships before rising to stardom as a NFL Quarterback.   Growing up in a dangerous section of Newport News, Virginia, where the murder rate is over twice the national average and almost 15% of the people fall below the poverty line, Michael Vick learned to take many things in stride.  Because he lived in the Deep South, he grew accustomed to dogfighting, as it was part of his cultural upbringing (Gorman).  Vick and his friends grew up around the dogs that participated in the fights, and attended the fights as they got older.  For Vick and many others, dogs were a sport, just like football (Gorman).  For most people in his community, the only way out of this culture was through sports, and Vick excelled at football in high school. A star at Warwick High School, Vick was soon recruited to Virginia Tech to play for them.
        Michael Vick only continued to improve in college, leading his team to a 20-1 record and setting four passing records in only two years (Barnidge 42).  Realizing his potential, he declared himself eligible for the NFL draft after only playing two years of college football.  Running and passing his way into the draft, he impressed scouts so much that he was soon predicted to be the number one overall draft pick, and was selected by the Atlanta Falcons with the first overall draft pick of 2001.  Michael Vick signed a six year, $62 million dollar contract, with $15.3 million guaranteed.  Thrilled by the amount of money he was making, he returned to his hometown where the income per capita was $17,843.  Making about 577 times as much money as the average person in his neighborhood per year, Michael Vick felt obliged to help support some of his childhood friends that had not been so lucky, and began to spend more time with them.  Falling into back into the culture that he struggled to emerge from, Vick began to stage dogfights in his garage at his family’s home sometime during 2001, keeping the fighting dogs in the backyard, along with dogs that were "bit up, chewed up, exhausted" (Michael Vick Signs).

Playing an average first season with the Atlanta Falcons, Vick broke out during his second season, becoming the "headline performer" and leading the Atlanta Falcons to a wildcard playoff berth in the NFC South after nine victories (Buckely 21).  The Falcons continued to excel with Vick as their quarterback, making it to the NFC Championship by winning eleven games and the NFC South Championship in 2004 (Kelley 10).  At the time, no one imagined what the star quarterback was doing in his free time.  By 2007, Vick was heavily invested in Bad Newz Kennels, a dog fighting operation run out of his backyard, which supported over 70 dogs, mostly pit-bull terriers.  Vick had overreached himself by trying to help his friends and family, and was now giving out about $30,000 a month.  The culture that Vick had been lucky to escape had sucked him back in, and in April 2007, the investigation into Bad Newz Kennels had begun.  Warwick High School took down his jersey that they had retired and hung in the gym, and fans who had once idolized him became his worst critics.  On December 10th, 2007, Michael Vick was sentenced to 23 months in prison.

Because of good behavior, after 18 months in Leavenworth Prison, Michael Vick was released.  Prison changed Michael Vick and the perception people had about him.  Vick was finally being criticized and condemned by many, something that had never before happened to the young athlete, and he was shaken by it.  Soon after he was gone from the NFL, the rest of the world moved on and began to focus on other things.  Michael Vick was a distant memory, and when people did think about him, they believed him to be out of shape and of no interest to any NFL teams any more.  However, this was not the case.  Unbeknownst to the public, Michael Vick had been changed for the better, with even his father, one of the few people that met with him in prison, and who had been one of the first to accuse him of dogfighting, saying, "he’ll be a better man because of [prison]" (Squires).  Prison forced Michael Vick to live by someone else’s rules, not just his own.  For the first time in his life, there was the threat of severe consequences if he did not do what was asked of him.  Vick was forced to adapt and change, and evolved throughout his stay in prison.

The furor surrounding Michael Vick flared again as the media realized that he would soon be released from prison.  Debates raged about whether or not he had truly changed, or would he just fall back to his same problems.  Once he was released from prison, the Atlanta Falcons announced that they had no interest in keeping him, and numerous other NFL teams announced that they had no interest in Michael Vick to put their fans at rest.  Few still had interest in the fallen star.  However, even those teams that did have a slight interest in Vick expected him to serve as a backup, as they imagined that his playing skills would have been severely hurt during his time in prison.  None of these teams expected Vick to become a better player, and a much better person, after his stay in prison.

To the surprise of everyone, the Philadelphia Eagles, a team with two solid quarterbacks, picked up Michael Vick after he was released from the Falcons.  Andy Reid, the Head Coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, was a major supporter of the move to bring in Michael Vick.  Reid, whose two sons had both been sentenced to 23 months of jail for drug related issues, knew that prison could change people.  When his sons were released from prison, the first thing they did was go back to school to earn degrees (Kinslow).  Jeffery Lurie, the owner of the Philadelphia Eagles, is a supporter of animal rights, and displays a gallery of social heroes including Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King in the Eagle’s front office rather than football players, was also a major supporter of the decision to bring in Vick (Price 38).  Jeffery Lurie was one of the few who believed that Vick had actually changed, especially after he talked to Tony Dungy, Vick’s mentor while he was in prison.  When Lurie asked Tony Dungy if Vick had really changed during prison, Tony said, "Vick spoke of how he wanted to be a good father for his three children, a better man for all the kids who once idolized him.  He also told, how, given the chance, he intended to push himself, maximize his talent, for the first time" (Price 38).  Convinced of Vicks dedication towards turning his life around, but still naturally concerned about his ability to play football at such a high level after a year and half in prison, Lurie signed Vick to a low risk contract-one year, with the option for a one-year extension.

As a Philadelphia Eagle, Michael Vick started the slow process of turning his life around.  Describing himself "as a classic last-in, first-out locker room presence before [prison], skating by on talent alone, [his] car littered with unwatched game film, living a lie…everything from A to Z. Only prison forced [him] to change" (Price 38), Michael Vick was determined to change that image.  However, Vick was a diligent, if unimportant, third-string player during the 2009 season, and the furor surrounding his comeback faded (Price 28).  During the offseason, a surprise trade of the starting quarterback to the Washington Redskins caused Vick to be promoted to the backup quarterback role, and his self-confidence swelled again, just like it had when he had been originally drafted.  He worked hard into the offseason, but once again allowed himself to suffer from bad decisions.  Against his mother and girlfriend’s wishes, he decided to sell tickets to his birthday party instead of having a private, family only event.  Towards the end of the party, Vick’s girlfriend and his best friend Quanis Phillips smeared cake on his face.  Angry at this unexpected event, Vick drove off with his girlfriend.  Less than five minutes later, Quanis Phillips was shot and Michael Vick was soon under investigation again.  The world began to question whether Michael Vick had really changed, or if he had just tricked many into thinking that he had, and that his stay in prison had no effect on him.

Although Vick was cleared of any wrongdoing within a few days, the media headlines and the threats from his coach and the NFL convinced Vick that he needed to work even harder on turning his life around.  He returned to the Eagle’s practice facilities and worked harder than he ever had before.  Instead of going to parties during his free time, he studied game tape.  When the 2010 NFL Season started, Vick made the most of the opportunity he had when starting quarterback Kevin Kolb was sidelined with an injury, and impressed the coaches so much that he started again the next week, and continued to start throughout the season.  After one record-setting performance against the Washington Redskins, where he ran and passed for a combined 410 yards and scored 6 touchdowns, the Hall of Fame requested his jersey (Price 37).  Players on other teams were extremely impressed, such as  Darnell Dockett, a defensive end for the Arizona Cardinals, who tweeted that "Vick doing so good, he got dogs cheering for him," before the first half was even over (Price 37).  Vick soon became a serious candidate for the Most Valuable Player award, for which he finished second.  He is also up for consideration to be on the cover of Madden 2012, and is one of eight players remaining in the running out of the 32 that were nominated.

Michael Vick had become the master of the football field once again, and at the same time, was being more and more successful in turning his life around.  After seeing the public’s reaction to dogfighting and after spending almost two years of his life in prison, Michael Vick realized that he needed to change how he lived in order to become a better person and a better football player.  Michael Vick’s prison sentence helped him realize that he is not above the law and if he wants to improve at things, he has to work hard.  Vick was being continuously drawn into an unhealthy culture that was negatively affecting not only his performance on the playing field, but was negatively affecting his life.  Luckily for Vick, he realized that this culture was not good for him and worked to get away from it.

Not only did Vick evolve as a football player, he evolved as a person.  Michael Vick has gone from killing dogs to saving them by speaking out against animal abuse.  Vick requested to meet with the president of the Humane Society of America, Wayne Pacelle, while he was in Prison, and has continued to work with them so that they "can all be voices against animal fighting"  (Vick tells students).  Michael Vick has also spoken at countless schools all over the country to help spread awareness against animal abuse.

If Michael Vick had never participated in dog fighting and had never been arrested, he would not be as good as a player as he is today.  Michael Vick needed something to push him so he could reach the next level, and prison was the thing that gave him that push.  Vick was forced to work harder than he ever had before if he wanted to return to the NFL, and this helped him realize his potential.  Not only did prison force Vick to become a better football player, it forced him to become a better person.


Works Cited

Barnidge, Tom. Whiz Kid Quarterbacks. London: DK, 2003. Print.
Buckley, James, Jr., et al. The Child’s World Encyclopedia of the NFL. Mankato: Child’s World, 2008. Print.
Gorman, Steve. "Whoopi Goldberg defends Vick’s dog-fighting role." Reuters. N.p., 5 Sept. 2007. Web. 24 Mar. 2011. <>.
Kelley, K. C. Inside the NFL NFC SOUTH. Mankato: Child’s Worrld, 2009. Print.
Kinslow, Tom. "Andy Reid’s Sons: Where Are They Now After Prison Sentences?" bleacher report. N.p., 16 Nov. 2010. Web. 25 Mar. 2011. <>.
"Michael Vick Signs Plea Deal." N.p., 24 Aug. 2007. Web. 24 Mar. 2011. <>.
Price, S. L. "IS IT O.K. TO CHEER?" Sports Illustrated 29 Nov. 2010: 34-42. Print.
Smith, Michael David. "Michael Vick honored as "a true example of life success"." NBC Sports Pro Football Talk. NBC, 27 Feb. 2011. Web. 27 Feb. 2011. <>.
Squires, David. "Vick’s father says prison made QB ‘a better man.’" N.p., 27 May 2009. Web. 24 Mar. 2011. <>.
"Vick tells students not to follow croud." ESPN NFL. ESPN, 9 Sept. 2009. Web. 25 Mar. 2011.
Wes. "Tucker Carlson Thinks Michael Vick Should Have Been Executed." Bleacher Report. N.p., 27 Feb. 2011. Web. 27 Feb. 2011. <>.

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