Tell me if you heard this one before.
A highly versatile and talented 1st-round pick quarterback joins an NFL team in rebuilding mode, trying to make the transition from an older quarterback that just couldn’t get the job done. That quarterback leads his team into the playoffs almost every year, at least when he isn’t injured.
Then the bomb hits. This quarterback is involved in illicit activities that are frowned on by the general public. There is no sympathy for this quarterback. No punches are pulled as he is crucified by the media, stripped of what was left of his ten year, $130 million contract (as well as paid back a portion of his guaranteed signing bonus), and sent to jail for over a year and a half.
But the story doesn’t end there. This quarterback serves his sentence and rejoins society in bankruptcy. With the public still at his throat, he becomes a spokesperson against the activities he had formerly been involved in. He is given a second chance by an NFL team that is, once again, in transition. After an initial public backlash against the player and organization, the anger subsides from a deafening roar to a low mumble as the quarterback plays for the team during the next five years, at which time he is released, not because of his past but because a new quarterback has risen in his injured absence.
This is the football life of Michael Vick, from his drafting by the Atlanta Falcons to his implication in a dog-fighting ring to his “redemption” (as he likes to call it) as he is given a second chance with the Philadelphia Eagles. Now he must relive that time of redemption as he was recently signed by the New York Jets to a one year, $5 million contract.
I’ll be the first to admit that I raged with the best of them. Maybe not PETA rage (when they aren’t going naked), but I definitely called Michael Vick some choice phrases when he was first under investigation. “Puppy-killing s#*thead” was probably one of the more reserved titles I bestowed on Vick. I’m an animal lover. I don’t have a dog right now. Why? Because I know that I work too many hours to give a puppy the attention that it needs. Yeah, I’m that awesome. I’ve since adopted my family’s dog, Riley, as “my dog” but it’s not the same.
So, like a good humorist, I lampooned Vick with pictures and commentary, using my anger to trash the athlete into oblivion.
Then Michael Vick returned from prison, and re-entered the NFL by signing with the Philadelphia Eagles. Everyone not an Eagles fan had a field day with that as Eagles fans found themselves conflicted between their sports team and their morals. “How can I possibly root for this douchebag?” was the general question asked by Philly fans. Eventually the steam from rival fans dissipated, and the fumbling answer to this question was allowed to be left unanswered.
Of course, rival fans were always quick to don some sort of anti-Vick paraphernalia for game day for years after, because that’s what fans do: they heckle the star players of rival teams. There was a brief time that the hatred of Michael Vick became nationally resurrected when he decided to get a dog for his daughter but, other than that, national berating of Vick became old news.
But a new contract on a new team is new news. It shows that injuries to character in the court of public opinion never fully heal. The scab is just ripped off when the person in question makes headlines again.
So it’s 2009 all over again. A new team, the New York Jets, has made Michael Vick a quarterback. A back-up quarterback but still a quarterback, an offensive leader, for another green team, coincidentally. The outrage has spawned malice from dog-lovers, anti-Jets fans, and even social media calls for boycotting Vick, the Jets, and probably the whole state of Virginia where the dog-fighting took place.
From a football perspective, signing Michael Vick makes perfect sense for the New York Jets. For what is only a tad higher than the highest paid backup quarterbacks (Matt Moore of the Miami Dolphins averages $4 million a year while Chase “Who” Daniel of the Kansas City Chiefs makes a little over $3 million per year), The Jets get a veteran quarterback that their current quarterback, Geno Smith, is modeled after: a running quarterback that can heave a bomb when he has to. This means that Vick can mentor Smith (from a talent perspective. Yes, I’ve heard the sarcasm that this phrase brings about.) This also means that, if Smith is injured or just plain fails, Vick would not disrupt the offensive scheme of the Jets when he played. It would be the exact same system, just with a different leader. It’s not like going from a running quarterback to a statue like Drew Bledsoe.
But then there’s that pesky dog-fighting business that brings up the character issue. “Seriously? This is the guy that’s going to mentor a young quarterback?” A lot of people refuse to forgive Michael Vick, and no one will ever forget, even if he did lose his freedom and millions of dollars and turns the other cheek time and again in the face of detractors. I’m not defending what he did. I’m just stating facts about what has happened since then.
And that’s okay. Go ahead and say that you’ll boycott the Jets. Take pictures of your dog ripping apart a Michael Vick jersey or a plush toy. He deserves the mockery. But be aware that some of us will be forgoing the hatred cycle that has already been done five years ago and treating Michael Vick and the Jets how we normally would. Whether that is with disgust, sympathy, or love is up for debate.