Commentary

Time to forgive Vick is here

Updated: January 3, 2011, 12:07 PM ET
By Rick Reilly | ESPN.com

Michael VickHoward Smith/US PresswireMichael Vick has made dramatic changes in his life since serving time in prison for animal cruelty. But some dog lovers are still not impressed.

I'm just not sure what people want Michael Vick to do.

Quit football? Return to prison? Drown himself in the same lake where he and his crew used to drown dogs? Would he be forgiven then?

Now that Vick is having an eye-bugging season for the Philadelphia Eagles -- 11 touchdowns, zero interceptions, four starts, four wins, one "Monday Night Football" jersey sent to the Pro Football Hall of Fame -- it seems only to have torqued off dog lovers worse.

"If it were up to me, they would have locked him up and thrown away the key," blogged Sumo Pop recently.

As if 18 months in Leavenworth, and six more in a halfway house, aren't punishment enough.

"Michael Vick should give half of his … salary to animal rights groups," Liz McGowin wrote on PETA.org.

As if losing $100 million and three years in the prime of his career wasn't steep enough.

"Michael Vick is a Sociopathic Dog-Torturing, Dog-Maiming, Dog-Drowning, Dog-Electrocuting Pile of S---," somebody posted on Vick's Twitter page Thursday. Vick's Twitter page was running about half against him this week -- until it was frozen for "suspicious activity."

The man is contrite. He is humbled. He is chastened. He has already given 24 speeches for the Humane Society. He has dismissed his old friends, has even run from them when they show up. What else is he supposed to do? Move into a dog kennel himself?

As if being judged and humiliated in front of the world isn't shame enough.

The man is contrite. He is humbled. He is chastened. He has already given 24 speeches for the Humane Society. He has dismissed his old friends, has even run from them when they show up. What else is he supposed to do? Move into a dog kennel himself?

Wednesday, the L.A. Times ran yet another front-page story about how some of the 47 rescued pit bulls from the Vick kennels are doing. You know the answer because you saw the story the first 100 times: not well. Some of them still shake, cower and won't bark.

I love dogs, too, but how long does Vick have to star in "The Unforgiven"? He has faced it. Admitted it. Apologized deeply for it. Went to federal prison for it. Got cut for it. Suspended for it. And now campaigns against it. How long must he carry this cross?

Just press "pause" for a second and look at what he has done.

A man fresh from the clink is turning the NFL upside down. A man who was arguably the most reviled athlete in this country in 2007 is now the toast of American sports. Imagine that. Michael Vick, who was reduced to appearing in "Pros vs. Joes" this offseason -- and made the Joes look good -- is the favorite to win MVP this season.

"Mike Vick for PRESIDENT!!" LeBron James tweeted.

"Good game, Mike! Good game, baby!" Michael Jordan texted to Vick on Monday night.

"He's damn near impossible to stop!" gushed Tom Brady on WEEI in Boston after Vick threw for four touchdowns and ran for two more in three quarters in that gaudy 59-28 win over the Washington Redskins.

Does that make LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Tom Brady all dog haters, too?

Me, I think Vick is the most exciting athlete in American sports. Does that mean I approve of hideous cruelty to pit bulls?

In fact, in a backward way, Vick has been the best thing to happen to pit bulls.

"It's very true," says John Goodwin of the Humane Society of the United States. "For the big picture, Michael has been a tipping point. Since his case, there have been 30 new laws enacted all over the country toughening dogfighting penalties. Raids [on dogfighting rings] were up twice as much in 2008 -- after Vick -- as they were in 2006, before him. There's much more awareness. People see it now and call it in."

What do you want him to do, commit hara-kiri?

This is the hottest athlete in America right now, a man who is surely going to sign for Fort Knox very soon, probably before the season is out, making his current $5.25 million deal look like cab fare. Yet he'll be taking his off day next week to go up to New Haven, Conn., and talk to the kids at Hillhouse High School about how heinous dogfighting is.

How can you not admire how this man has remade himself?

Before prison, Vick used to be the last one into the locker room and the first one out. After prison, he's just the opposite. No Eagle prepares harder.

Before prison, he practically drove ruts in the McDonald's drive-thru lane. After prison, he's a chicken-and-broccoli guy.

Before prison, the only film room he hit much was the home theater in his Atlanta mansion. After prison, he has become a freak for studying game film of the opponent. Gollum sees more daylight.

Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg is a dog lover. Has two himself. He has forgiven Vick. "Michael works hard before every practice and again after," Mornhinweg says. "He's worked so diligently to get to this level. He made some huge mistakes, but he's paid the price."

Scars heal. Heels change.

In the federal corrections world, they call it "re-entry." For most freed felons, re-entry into society is fraught with trouble. Some guys get out and can't even get a driver's license, much less a job. The adjustment to life outside can give a guy the bends. Quite often, the road leads them right back inside.

But Michael Vick? He has made the kind of re-entry usually reserved for Apollo astronauts. The man reinvented himself into a wonder, both in his uniform and out. He has seen how wrong he was. He's sorry. He's making amends.

"I don't have to think about going back down the path I've traveled because it's not going to happen," Vick said Wednesday. "I can live my life with a clear mind every day, knowing that I'm moving forward."

Why can't everybody else?


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Rick Reilly | email

Columnist, ESPN.com