Growing up in South Carolina and going to college in Hampton Roads, I spent a great portion of my life idolizing Michael Vick. Vick and his Atlanta Falcons used to square off against my beloved Carolina Panthers twice a year, and those were some of the most entertaining NFL games I can remember. The only guy on the field who could match his athleticism was Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers.
Sure, Vick wasn't a great quarterback, but he was of the most entertaining players in the league. When he led the Falcons to the playoffs in 2003, he became the first quarterback to beat the Packers at Lambeau Stadium in the playoffs.
Vick's eventual conviction was heart wrenching. I, like many fans, was in shock. The charges, the horrendous things he was accused of and his continued denials, were hard to stomach.
Now before I get off topic, let me state clearly: He deserved to serve time for running a criminal enterprise and lying about it. Not that lying about anything matters with athletes these days (A-Rod, Manny, Bonds, the list goes on ...).My problem is that Vick, like every other American, deserves his just due. Vick has lost millions, declared bankruptcy and will miss out on future endorsement opportunities.
Some people argue that Vick, this monster, this puppy murderer, deserved that and more. People see Vick as the man who drowned man's best friend, and tortured, maimed and killed numerous dogs. Personally, I find this is the biggest misconception with his case. How does an NFL quarterback find time to do all these horrendous things? He doesn't.
Vick bankrolled Bad Newz Kennels, he was the money man -- meaning he didn't commit these atrocities, he just funded them. Does that excuse him? No. But he's not a monster.
Sure, what happened to these dog was awful, but seriously worse things happen in puppy mills and pet stores every day. We just don't hear about it because they're not owned by NFL players.
So now that Vick is free, teams will be lining up to sign him and he can continue life as a productive member of society, right? Of course not, that's not how America works. Signing Vick would be a public relations nightmare for any club who dared get near him. Throngs of PETA people will be lined up at every practice, game and team function.
And how much have Vick's skills diminished since he was incarcerated? Two years is a long time to be away from the NFL. Vick's speed and athleticism were a danger to every defense he faced. The question becomes this: If given the chance to play, be it the NFL, UFL or CFL, will he still have the physical tools to play at the top of his game?
Vick haters will argue he should just get a "normal" job like a "normal" person. But for Vick, the NFL was his job and playing quarterback was his profession. He didn't earn his Virginia Tech degree in chemical engineering, but engineering game-winning drives.
There is one silver lining for Vick. With the expansion and integration of the Wildcat offense and its many variations in the NFL, there is now a place for a running quarterback. Given the circumstances, Vick is far from being ready to step in as any team's starting quarterback, but bringing him in for use in Wildcat packages would create nightmares for defensive coordinators across the league.
Here's the deal: playing professional football is Vick's job. Animal rights activists and overzealous prosecutors in the Commonwealth of Virginia robbed him of that, in my opinion. He deserves the chance to work in his chosen field and earn a living to provide for his family and pay off his debtors. Anything short of that is justice denied.
-- Aaron Wright