Michael Vick: Cinderella Man

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Michael Vick: Cinderella Man
(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
 
        
In Ron Howard’s vehicle Cinderella Man, Russell Crowe stars as Jim Braddock, 
a down-and-out boxer during the Great Depression who like much of America had 
hit rock bottom. On the precipice of his comeback fight, a seemingly 
mismatched bout with an overpowering, younger and brazenly confidant 
Max Baer, the unflappable and endearing Jim Braddock is asked by a 
reporter to explain his comeback. Braddock’s answer is simple and 
 
heartfelt. He responds, “I had a run of bad luck. And this time around, 
 
I know what I’m fighting for.” The reporter delves deeper with a follow up question, 
 
“Yeah? What’s that, Jimmy”. Braddock, with unnerving honesty, replies “Milk.” While this story is the 
 
conception of Californication “made in a Hollywood basement” (Reader’s Note: Red Hot Chili Peppers are way
  
underrated), it sounds eerily familiar. 
 
A once great sports figure whose life is moving in reverse, from riches to rags. What sounds like a script written by Ron Shelton (Bull Durham, White Men Can’t Jump, Blue Chips, Tin Cup) 
 
is the real life story of Michael Vick. 
 
Michael Vick was once a prodigy, a player of remarkably raw athletic talent that captured the attention of football fans everywhere as a freshman Virginia Tech quarterback with a passing and rushing one-two punch never before seen. Well, it had been seen. But no where near as remarkable, 
 
as exciting, as effective. Sure, there was Randall Cunningham, the late Steve McNair, the underrated running of Steve Young, Kordell Stewart, Aaron Brooks, and even Fran Tarkenton. But none had the speed and elusiveness, the arm power of Michael Vick. He finished third in the Heisman voting as a freshman and graced the Sports Illustrated cover with the
  
moniker “Mr. Electric”, a caption on the cover reading 
“Why Michael Vick of Virginia Tech Has Sparked a Revolution at Quarterback”. 
His strong armed throws, blow-by-defenders speed, and Willie Beamen-esque (Any Given Sunday) moves made him a SportsCenter regular, they made him a star. 
The Atlanta Falcons drafted him number one overall in 2001 and he instantly became the face of a team and city searching for ascension to football relevancy three years after the “Dirty Bird” Falcons lost the Super Bowl. His slew of endorsements made him a fortune. And then, in 2005, he signed the richest deal in NFL history, a whopping 10 year, $130 million contract with $37 million in bonuses. What seems like a century ago happened less than half a decade ago. 
        
We all know what went awry. There were early signs of 
immaturity. Early signs of a coddled athlete uninterested in 
making sound choices. The 2004 arrest of two men  in Virginia 
for distributing marijuana while driving a truck registered to 
Michael Vick. A 2005 civil lawsuit alleging Vick knowingly 
gave a woman genital herpes and used the alias Ron Mexico at 
treatment centers. The 2006 loss to the Saints where Vick treated 
heckling fans with two middle finger salutes. And then the straw 
that broke the camel’s back. The 2007 arrest for owning and operating 
a dog fighting ring. His repugnant actions dominated the headlines and 
shook the sports world. He was vilified by the media. Cursed by fans. 
Scorned by animal lovers. Practically crucified by PETA. Vick, 
once a NFL star was now the league’s pariah. Two years have past 
since then. Much has changed in Vick’s life. He has lost two years 
of his playing career and his life at Leavenworth Prison in Kansas. 
A jail with a rich history of housing gangsters, notably George “Machine Gun” Kelly 
and George “Bugs” Moran. He has also filed for bankruptcy. The waterfalls 
of money now dried up. 
        Michael Vick was in need of a second chance. And he partly 
received it Monday, July 27 when he was conditionally reinstated in 
the NFL. Conditional? Yes, Vick’s future and second chance in the NFL 
hinges on conditions set forth by Roger Goodell, the oft indecisive 
commissioner of the NFL. What do the scales of justice mean anymore 
in this country? Not very much, at least to Goodell. After essentially 
serving a 32 game suspension in a 9’x9’ cell, a 4 to 6 game suspension 
still looms above Vick’s head. The man has had everything taken away 
from him but his chance. He deserves a second chance. And Goodell 
still wavers. He enjoys having his players dead-to-rights. In his 
attempt to evade the luminous shadow of the greatest commish in 
sports history so far, Paul Taglibue, Roger Goodell has created 
himself as a caricature, a bulldog hell bent on running the NFL 
like a military academy. His reluctance to fully reinstate Vick is 
egregious. Has he not suffered enough? Maybe next to the Gene Upshaw 
sticky on Vick’s helmet, Goodell can personally paint a Scarlett letter, as though the stigma of being a criminal is not humiliating enough. The support for Vick’s reinstatement from the universally esteemed Tony Dungy should be credence enough. 
        What’s just as perplexing is that NFL teams are expressing 
disinterest in Michael Vick. Why? It can’t be because of his legal 
past. How many players in the NFL have a checkered history? Half the 
Bengals roster does. What teams receive by signing Vick is a player 
with unusual motivation. Motivation surpassing probably any other player
 in the league. He was once atop his game. He had it all. And now he 
has nothing. Like Braddock, he knows what he’s playing for now. Not 
for the women. Or the exotic luxury cars. Or the billboards with his 
face adorning them, trying to hock a product to teenage boys and beer 
loving men. He’s fighting for “milk”. He’s fighting for a meal. He’s 
essentially fighting for his life. Michael Vick doesn’t have any skills
 away from throwing or running with a football. Like most star college 
players, he passed on a college degree for NFL riches. Not only would 
Michael Vick be motivated, but he could serve as a great mentor to young
 players susceptible to the same pitfalls. And if not a mentor, then a 
poster child for prudence. The media, including pundits and sports expert
s, should put a halt to questions of whether he will be able to play 
after such a layoff. Vick was once feared for his athletic prowess. He 
didn’t suffer an injury, at least not physical. The two seasons off do no
t affect his playmaking ability or his knowledge of the game. How do we
 know? Muhammad Ali lost three plus years of boxing during the prime of 
his career after being convicted of refusing induction into the U.S. Armed 
Forces to fight in Vietnam. He regained his championship form not 
long after returning to boxing. Michael Jordan’s premature first 
retirement lasted nearly two years and he went on to win three more 
championships upon his return. This year, Lance Armstrong finished 
third overall in the Tour De France after nearly four years in 
retirement. If it was a player of less than great athletic proportions,
 then there would be validity for the argument, a cause for doubt. 
However, it’s Michael Vick. The same guy Sports Illustrated stated 
“has sparked a revolution at quarterback”. Still not convinced? Then 
put it to the test. Sign Vick to the veteran’s minimum. The contract’s 
not guaranteed, thus nothing to lose. Just give the man a second chance
at the game. Don’t deny the player the opportunity to prove himself. 
To reinvent himself. To earn for himself. 
 Michael Vick made an awful mistake and he’s paid an awful amount for 
it. It’s a hard fall from grace; dark, lonely and exhausting. And the 
rocky road to return to grace is just as trying. Jim Braddock got his 
comeback fight, his second chance to be one of boxing’s best. Just as 
Braddock got the chance to rise from the bottom, so should Vick. Michael
Vick deserves the opportunity to attempt it. He deserves the chance 
to channel his inner Jim Braddock. He deserves the chance to fight for 
his redemption. He deserves to be the Cinderella Man. It’s a cliché 
script, but who doesn’t enjoy a Hollywood ending?
        
 
 
 
 

 

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