December 30, 2010

What will become of Michael Vick?

Conservative pundit Tucker Carlson made headlines this week by claiming that Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick "should have been executed" for maliciously murdering canines while running a dog-fighting ring.

Naturally, this drew a lot of uproar, and the bow-tie wearing buffoon has been appropriately castigated for his outrageous statement. But the incident, much like Nils Lofgren's equally pointless ESPN.com piece, should remind us all that Michael Vick, or "Michael Vick," has become something far beyond a human being.

To journalists, columnists, bloggers and political analysts, he's a talking point; a living, breathing cultural and moral debate waiting to re-explode at any second. To sports fans and sportswriters, he's an amazingly exciting quarterback, a once-and-future millionaire, an can't-miss athlete, a superstar-turned-felon-turned-superstar that sells newspapers and drives up ratings. Right now, he's more entity than man.

Countless eyes are on him, more than maybe any athlete ever. Supporters of rehabilitation are flocking to him as their poster boy. A eclectic collection of racists, dog lovers and hard-line reactionaries want nothing more than to see him fall. And if the Eagles make it to the Super Bowl, expect this all to be amplified tenfold.

I don't know if Michael Vick will continue his trend of good behavior. I like to think that he's matured and learned his lesson, that he values the love of his family, freedom, financial success and the adoration of millions of sports fans enough to avoid any future risky situations. But as time goes by, even for Michael Vick fans like myself, it's fair to wonder.

Several people, including Ray Didinger and my father, have noted that when Vick has faced adversity in the last few games, he's reverted back to his Falcons-era ways. Running and gunning, forcing passes, not looking at all like the quarterback that's revitalized the Eagles and the city. He's looked a lot like the free-wheeling Vick that got in so much trouble.

Can you analyze Vick's response to on-the-field struggles and compare that to how he'll deal with any real-life issues? Maybe. Then again, he was the sole catalyst behind the team's triumphant comeback in New York, and he might have done it again in Minnesota if not for a quad contusion. Maybe his frustrations are totally justified; maybe I'm reading too much into this. Like I said, I love and believe in Michael Vick. I think, so far, he's done everything possible to turn over a new leaf and reinvent himself as a new man.

But to respond to your proclamation, Tucker Carlson, we should not end Michael Vick's life for killing dogs. Nor should we end Donté Stallworth's or Leonard Little's for killing actual human beings. People deserve second chances, and Vick's made great strides in capitalizing on his.

And if he survives whatever happens in the playoffs, good or bad, maybe he'll start to quiet all this insane talk. Maybe he'll finally return to being just another athlete, one of a few dozen professional quarterbacks trying to win a championship. Living in the limelight, sure, but a much more limited set of pressures. For his sake, I hope that's the case.

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