Last week, longtime NFL quarterback Michael Vick announced his retirement from football. Vick’s career is certainly a notorious one; most people probably know him for his high profile criminal case and subsequent prison time. Vick’s retirement is still a nostalgic moment for football fans, so let us consider what Vick’s legacy looks like with a tough examination of his personal troubles.
Before we go further, I should offer a disclaimer: Michael Vick’s crimes were nothing short of disgusting and inhumane. Anybody guilty of what he was guilty of must suffer the consequences.
Michael Vick certainly did.
But Vick went above and beyond what is expected of a man trying to reform himself. He did not just ‘do the time’ — he put himself and his mistakes in the spotlight, certainly in excess of what was expected of him. In today’s sports climate, that is something that deserves more credit than it gets. Let’s face it, some of today’s professional athletes are spoiled millionaires who get showered with praise. Some of them take it all for granted and act entitled — like they own the world.
But this has never been true of Vick.
Vick has always worn his heart on his chest. When he arrived in the NFL to play for the Falcons, Vick became the center of a cultural movement in Atlanta. In a recent piece in The Player’s Tribune, titled “Atlanta,” Vick described the magnitude of being a part of a revival of Atlanta’s culture. “I was at the center of a whole world, right there, in this crazy community that we had built,” he wrote. For Vick, it meant the world to give the black kids of Atlanta “their very own black quarterback.” If you want to gain more of an insight to Vick’s character, I strongly recommend reading that piece. It adds a lot of color to this story.
Let’s briefly examine Vick’s on-the-field numbers. In 2006, Vick became the only quarterback in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards. Vick’s career average of seven yards-per-carry is the highest by any player in football history. By objective measures, we are talking about the best running quarterback of all time. Vick’s passing stats are slightly above average. In fact, his best years as a passer came after his prison stint as a Philadelphia Eagle. During those years, Vick had a 59.5 percent completion rate and an 87.7 passer rating, both well above league averages.
But it is Vick’s off-the-field improvement after his sentence that bears emphasis. Since emerging from prison, Vick has worked extensively with the Humane Society to end dog fighting in America. He has made countless contributions to poor communities, particularly those of Atlanta, Coastal Virginia and Philadelphia, his second football home. This is a man who reformed every fiber of his being. He paid a heavy price for his mistakes, and he is making good on his commitment to be a better man.
Vick’s case for the Hall of Fame is likely already settled. He went to prison, and it kept him out of football for two years. If I had a vote, I would cast it in Vick’s favor. It’s unlikely he ends up with a statue in Canton. His statistics are good enough, but that’s not even the point. Perhaps no one in recent years is a better example of character improvement than Vick. And he deserves every bit of credit for it.
So, as for Vick’s legacy, it’s safe to say he has made his mark, with or without a place in the Hall. If every player conducted himself the way that Vick has over the last eight years, the League would be a better place. Vick should be proud of that, at least.