Have Fans Re-Embraced Michael Vick?

RADIO – Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick is one of the most exciting and polarizing figures in the NFL.  Last year, he led the Eagles to a 10-6 record, and was rewarded with a Pro Bowl appearance and a new $100 million contract from the Eagles.

He was re-embraced by many fans due to both his play on the field and his conduct off the field, but many others still cannot get beyond the issues in his past.

Vick was on top of the league previously and was then convicted of dog fighting and served 21 months in prison.  Upon his release, he worked hard to make up for his past and to rehabilitate his image, including volunteering and cooperating with the Humane Society’s efforts to put an end to dogfighting.  You can see a video on his cooperation with the Humane Society here.

Sports journalist and culture critic Scoop Jackson, contributor to ESPN.com’s Page2 and ESPN the Magazine, sat down with Dave Zirin and NBA center and member of the NBA Players Association executive committee Etan Thomas to discuss Michael Vick, his role in our culture and America’s attitude toward giving athletes second chances.

Both Thomas and Zirin believe that at the end of the day, rehabilitation for athletes is primarily about their performance on the field.  To Thomas asking the question, “Does winning cure all?”  Jackson replied, “Winning is the best deodorant in sports.  It covers up all of the stink.”

But to Jackson, it’s about more than that, “We have to see some change.”  He argues that the fans ultimately want to care about more than just the performance on the field and for athletes to truly be embraced, they have to show that they’ve changed.

By exploring other athletes who have had troubled periods in their careers, ranging from Kobe Bryant and Tiger Woods to Josh Hamilton, athletes’ on-field success does translate to a re-acceptance, but to really be embraced by the fans, Jackson argues they must show that they have changed.

Even controversial figures like Mohammad Ali are explored, as Jackson says, “Some people still do not agree with the stances that Ali took and what he stood for.”

Vick seems to have largely been forgiven by football fans after his strong performance last year.  Currently, he is struggling through injuries after being knocked out of the last two games with a concussion and a severe bruise on his hand.  Both games that Vick couldn’t finish ended up as Eagles losses.

The Dream Team is now sitting at 1-2, and hoping for Vick to recover quickly enough to lead them to the NFL promised land.  At the end of the day, his success on the field may have a bigger impact on how strongly the fans are willing to embrace him than all of the good work he has done off the field.

Any maybe that says more about us than it does about him.

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