A little over three years ago, Vick pleaded guilty to federal charges in the Bad Newz Kennels dog fighting investigation, resulting in an indefinite suspension from the National Football League, without pay, for conduct Commissioner Roger Goodell described as “cruel and reprehensible.”
During his 19-month incarceration, Vick’s financial condition deteriorated rapidly due to having virtually no income and substantial ongoing expenses for attorneys, the maintenance of several luxury homes in multiple states and living expenses for friends and relatives.
So with debts in excess of assets by millions of dollars, and collection efforts and judgments from creditors staring him in the face, Vick empowered his attorneys to file for Chapter 11 federal bankruptcy protection in July 2008.
By the three-time Pro Bowler's own admission, these were the darkest hours in his life. The inability to simply go home and, excluding being the financier of an illegal dog fighting ring, lead the life he had been accustomed to living over the course of nearly a decade.
His words of advice and encouragement would be the impetus to Dungy becoming Vick’s mentor after his release from prison in an effort to help Vick get re-acclimated to life as a civilian, a father and a football player.
Prior to Vick’s conditional reinstatement to the NFL, Dungy inspired him to carefully examine how he could get involved in the community to honor his personal commitments, including youth outreach and partnering with the Humane Society to educate people about the ills of dog fighting.
Dungy would also counsel Vick on selecting the franchise that would provide the best support in helping him get back into the routine of being a football player.
And it wouldn’t be long before Vick made the decision to sign a one-year contract with the Eagles last August, with an option that was picked up by the team for this season.
Since then, the trade of Donovan McNabb this past offseason and a concussion suffered by Kevin Kolb in the first game of this season opened the door for Vick to display his evolution as a quarterback and most importantly, as a man.
Now Vick is widely considered a leading candidate for the Most Valuable Player Award and drawing praise for his humility, patience and work ethic in addition to his commitment to community service.
In August 2009, Burress accepted a plea deal that would imprison him for two years with an additional two years of supervised release, for attempted criminal possession of a weapon. The charges stemmed from Burress suffering an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound to his right thigh at a New York City nightclub less than a year earlier.
As a result, Burress not only derailed the Giants’ hopes of repeating as Super Bowl Champions, he lost his primary source of income and the privilege of witnessing the birth of his daughter, Giovanna—the latter of which brought a stream of tears to his eyes during a televised interview.
Arguably, nothing humbles a man more than when his freedom is taken away from him. Michael Vick knows this feeling all too well.
And who better to give Burress the same ray of hope that was given to him than the NFL’s current poster boy for redemption.
In Burress, Vick has a unique opportunity to demonstrate what he should have truly learned from his own experience. An appreciation for the simple things in life and the empathy to lift someone up in the midst of his own personal pit of despair.
If Vick can relay these poignant messages to Burress, who is scheduled for release in the latter half of 2011, it will transcend anything he does on the football field; especially if it’s done with as little fanfare and publicity as possible.
Vick doesn’t owe this to Burress, he owes it to himself. Burress needs to intently look into the eyes of a man who is, for all intents and purposes, his mirror image and realize that redemption is merely a change of heart away.
Not toward being a better and improved football player, but a better man, a better husband and a better father.