Commentary

Michael Vick: Roads still to travel

He's already come further than many expected, but his return isn't complete yet

Originally Published: March 9, 2011
By Roy S. Johnson | Special to ESPN.com

Michael Vick says he needs to "do more." Not on the football field. There, he's already done much more than anyone on either side of the Vick Fence ever thought he might.

Until the final weeks of the last season, he was a viable MVP candidate -- no longer inmate No. 33765-183. He was the league's best player not wearing "Brady" on his back, and he made the Eagles must-watch TV.

He was the player most of us thought he always should be: smart, dynamic, versatile, just deadly!

Not the player he had been before his incarceration for dogfighting: erratic, schizoid, enigmatic.

Just deadly.

Michael Vick
AP Photo/LM OteroMichael Vick's first year back in the NFL provided more TD poses than anyone had a right to expect.

He was, finally, a quarterback -- not an "athlete" playing the position.

Vick was the feel-good story of the season to many (though far from all), as much for the humble demeanor and tone of contrition he displayed in pregame and postgame interviews as for any wake-up-mama pass he threw, of which there were many. He pretty much said all the right things, handled questioners with ease and demonstrated a humility that won over a lot of critics.

And yet, he's right. He does need to do more.

Since the end of the season, Vick has been franchised by the Eagles, and he will earn up to $20 million next season. (Much of which will quickly go to creditors lingering from his bankruptcy.)

He did more than enough to earn that deal, yet he needs to do more -- though not for the reason he stated late Friday evening after being recognized as the top football player of the season at the Maxwell Awards in Atlantic City, N.J.

Vick was asked that night why he stood up Oprah last month, why he canceled his widely promoted appearance on the talk queen's stage at the last minute.

"I just felt that the timing wasn't right, based on everything that was going on," he told reporters. "My contract. The CBA. And there were certain things I really didn't want to touch on at the time. I feel like I need to be more, to do more, to be on that show. So I can talk about the past and talk about the present -- how prosperous things are, how bad they once were, and how we can move forward.

"I need to do more. But I think when I do go on, it's going to be outstanding."

[+] EnlargeOprah Winfrey
AP Photo/Chris PizzelloOprah Winfrey will have to wait for her Vick interview, and that's OK.

Although it might not be smart to rile the new "Big O," she'll get over it and find someone else to fill (or jump on) the couch on her stage or the 9,000-plus hours of her fledgling network's airtime.

Vick needs to do more, but not to assuage Oprah, nor to make what would be a fruitless attempt to pacify those who wouldn't root for him even if he walked across the Delaware River with cures for cancer, AIDS and world hunger, a Middle East peace treaty, and a resolution for Wisconsin's labor strife.

He needs to do more simply because there's so much more he can do.

He can do more to stymie the ugly crime of dogfighting, which, unfortunately, still goes on in some parts of the nation; and he can do more to serve as an ambassador for second chances.

If those who blindly curse him would stop to breathe for a moment, they just might see that Vick's journey -- being stripped of everything he had and serving 21 months in a federal penitentiary -- shed a light on an aspect of our culture's underbelly that might otherwise still be thriving. And that light is shining not just in the backwoods near the QB's former home in Surrey County, Va. (which might ultimately become a safe haven for abused animals) but in numerous other pits, too, that have since been shut down and, hopefully, bulldozed.

How many kids who might have been lured into the "sport" now know that pitting animals against each other until death is heinously wrong and comes with a staggering price? Win or lose in the pit, you ultimately lose away from it. Big-time.

And yet, he can do even more.

At a time when too many young men (particularly African-American men) are sucked into the criminal justice system, Vick's post-prison steps can show us that rehabilitation is more than an outdated ideal -- that a man (or woman) can change and become far better than he or she ever dreamed possible.

He can show us that a crime for which time behind bars and other penalties are served doesn't have to be a life sentence.

Michael Vick
Bill McCay/Getty ImagesHow strong was Vick's 2010 season? He was given the Bert Bell Award as player of the year by the Maxwell Club this past weekend.

He can show us that someone who was once arrogant, self-centered and awash in entitlement can throw off those traits and become about something other than himself, something bigger and infinitely more important.

He can show us things that will outlast his football career and be ultimately more significant.

Vick will always have to face questions, including questions about subjects he "doesn't want to touch on." He'll have to live with that for some time, fair or not.

But I agree with him. He doesn't have to answer them. Not yet.

On the morning of the Maxwell Awards, Vick was touted as appearing on ESPN's "First Take" but was a no-show. The network initially reported that it had been told by a Maxwell Football Club representative that Vick was prevented from appearing by the Eagles. But former Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski, who oversees the Maxwell Awards, later said that the Maxwell Club took full responsibility for the mix-up.

I don't feel I missed anything, just as I didn't miss anything when Vick left Oprah talking to herself.

After all, what is he going to say now that we haven't already heard and don't already know?

I'm sorry.

What I did was wrong.

I'd love to have a dog.

As I said, we've already heard those sentiments.

Michael Vick has more important things to do now and, hopefully, more important things to say later on. And when he says them, let's hope that, as he says, it'll be outstanding.

Roy S. Johnson is a veteran sports journalist and media consultant. His blog is Ballers, Gamers and Scoundrels.

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Roy S. Johnson

Contributing writer, ESPN.com