The other evening, I sat down to watch the Eagles play the Redskins in DC on MNF. Now, the Eagles this season have been by-and-large better than the identity-less .500-ish team I thought they were going to be and at 6-3, they’ve been a pleasant surprise. So when they took the field I thought they might be able to avenge this season’s earlier loss to Washington.
Did they ever.
I missed the first 30 seconds of the game, and they were already up 7-0. What ensued was an offensive assault that I’d never before witnessed – and certainly not from an Eagles team. By the beginning of the 2nd quarter they were up 35-0. They had > 500 yards of offense midway through the 3rd quarter, when they pretty much stopped trying. The NFL Hall of Fame asked for starting quarterback Mike Vick’s jersey after his historic night of throwing, running, and scoring seemingly at will.
Starting quarterback Mike Vick. Ahhh… there’s the rub.
At the beginning of last season, when the Eagles signed him fresh out of finishing his incarceration for dog-fighting, I expressed mixed feelings about having him on the team. On one side, here’s a guy that committed a crime, went to jail and served his time. Rationally, he should be able to try and make the best living he can. On another side, he’s a dirtball felon who maliciously killed dogs and I don’t want guys like that representing teams I like. At the time, I thought that it was sort of a philosophical argument – because Donovan McNabb was the starter and Kevin Kolb was the heir apparent. Vick was at best going to be a curiosity and likely trade-bait, and at worst, a dreadful distraction.
Well, in 15 months, he’s gone from holding a clipboard to saying all the right things to being named starter to having his jersey sent to Canton to being a legitimate MVP candidate. Quite a ride – talk about making the most of your opportunities. And so, I’m left again with mixed feelings about this guy not only being a member of, but now being the face of the “my” team.
“I’m no role model.” – Charles Barkley
Maybe Sir Charles had it right. Perhaps the issue is how we uphold these highly paid athletes. That somehow we need to build a narrative that the players we watch are “great guys”. Because let’s face it, likeable athletes are a lot easier to root for than dirtballs. But come on, how many of professional athletes are “great guys”? You can’t turn to ESPN without seeing stories of guns, domestic violence, infidelity, sexual assault, etc. They could have a ESPN-Police Blotter sub-section on their website. So, as a society, maybe we should leave the “great guy” fantasy behind.
So what about Vick? I really believe that once someone’s served their time you can’t continually punish them, because to do so suggests that imprisonment can never really expunge the crime and that the idea of rehabilitation is fraud. A clean slate is just that — so I say, even though it’s not easy, we have to give him one.
I guess what lingers with me is that unsettled feeling that the “dirtball” is still in there – that this hard-practicing, focused, team-leading QB isn’t the “real” person. That the “real” Vick would go back to his ways if he knew he wouldn’t get caught.
But maybe that says more about what I think about human nature than about Mike Vick.