Michael Vick officially retired from the NFL on Monday in a ceremony hosted by the Atlanta Falcons. It’s been a decade since Vick’s arrest on dogfighting charges, but he and the team still face backlash from fans because of it.
Immediately after his arrest, I was one of those Falcons fans who sent angry emails to the team demanding that Vick be released. Now, 10 years later, Vick has served his sentence, volunteered his time to help the Humane Society end dogfighting, and done everything to put that experience behind him. Vick has worked hard to rehabilitate his image, and it has helped me put my anger and disappointment about his dogfighting ring behind me.
During the ceremony, Falcons owner Arthur Blank echoed my feelings about Vick.
“Michael, like everybody on the face of the earth ... has made a mistake in his life, starting with the person who’s speaking now,” Blank said. “Life is really all about learning from your mistakes, redemption, learning to be a better person, moving on, and making a difference in the lives of other people.
“And there are many people that I know in life that have done that, but I’d say none more than Michael Vick.”
Once the team announced Monday’s event to honor his retirement, protestors created a Care2 petition to try to convince the Falcons to cancel it. The petition gained over 39,000 signatures.
Since Vick’s release from prison, he has been an active advocate for animal welfare. He also speaks to children to help them understand the importance of making good choices, and the consequences of bad ones.
“He is a living example of how you could make a better choice,” Blank said. “And coming from you, Michael, that means so much to these young people, that today are influenced in so many ways that are not always positive.”
Vick was drafted by the Falcons with the first overall pick in the 2001 draft, and the game had never seen a quarterback like him. He was electric on the field. He could do things that no other quarterback at the time could dream of doing. Michael Vick is the entire reason I became a Falcons fan. I wouldn’t even be writing about the league today if it weren’t for how much I loved watching him play when I moved to Atlanta in 2005.
Blank recalled a conversation he’d had with three-time Super Bowl champion quarterback Steve Young about Vick.
“And he said to me, ‘Mike has more talent at that position than anybody who’s ever played the position,’” Blank said.
But his talent didn’t overshadow what he had done, especially when the details were released in the police report. The Falcons fielded thousands of angry letters from fans and animal lovers after Vick’s conviction, including some from me. PETA organized protests outside of the team’s facility during training camp.
On the field, the situation was almost as bad. As a fan, it was excruciating to watch. Bobby Petrino, the head coach who had been hired to mold Vick into a champion, left before an abysmal 4-12 season even ended, leaving notes in players’ lockers to let them know. A combination of Byron Leftwich, Joey Harrington, and Chris Redman didn’t match the thrill of watching Vick behind center.
But then things started to turn around. The Falcons drafted Matt Ryan with the third overall pick in 2008, and Petrino’s replacement, Mike Smith, was able to right the ship.
And Vick got another shot at the NFL, too, after his 23-month prison sentence. He spent five seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, and had one-year stints as a backup with the New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers.
Finally, at the conclusion of the 2016 season, Vick got the reconciliation he had always hoped for with the Falcons and the city of Atlanta. The team invited Vick to join other former Falcons greats in a halftime ceremony during the very last regular season game in the Georgia Dome. Vick took the field in a convertible alongside his former teammate, Roddy White. The cheers from the crowd were deafening and it was cathartic to see fans embrace Vick once again.
And on Monday, Vick was grateful for the honor of being welcomed back to retire as an Atlanta Falcon.
Michael Vick has a special message for Atlanta. pic.twitter.com/jZf6L4Z872— Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) June 12, 2017
Vick didn’t sign a one-day contract with the team, but Blank said it wasn’t necessary.
“We do not need a contract in place to consider them a part of our family and honor their decision to retire as a Falcon,” Blank said via the team’s website.
It was Vick’s dream to retire as a Falcon, and he achieved that today. Arthur Blank recognizes — like I do now — that Vick has paid for his mistakes.