Justin Tinsley, ESPN
(ESPN.com) – “Michael Vick is a monster,” Linda An spewed from the safety of the Internet. Insisted Becky: “I don’t believe that this dog killer should be allowed to walk the streets.” Robin Robinson put it more bluntly: “Go to hell Michael Vick…that is where you belong, not Pittsburgh.”
These comments on a nearly 35,000-signature-deep Change.org petition represent a portion of the vitriol that greeted the quarterback’s recent signing with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Facebook groups created impromptu anti-Vick fashion lines; a candlelight vigil was held for the “victims of Michael Vick;” the Animal Rescue League stated Vick should not be allowed to pursue his profession.
Vick is quick to praise the many fans and players who have supported him through the peaks and valleys of his career. He’s a model for proper rehabilitation in an unforgiving society. Yet for some, Vick’s criminal record seems indelible. Like the hundreds of thousands of other black men and women disproportionately branded with the scarlet F of a felon, Vick is chained to a perception that his mistake is his legacy.
“I’ve been fortunate to have more people willing to help me than more people who wanted to see me suffer. That group of people, they know who they are,” Vick said in an interview. “But you’re always going to have that select group of people who will always not agree with certain things that people have done in their life.”
Vick, once the most exciting player in football, has satisfied debts federal, professional and moral. He has paid at least $15 million of his $17.8 million owed in bankruptcy, and taken animal rights legislation directly to Capitol Hill. Hate it or love it, he is one of pro football’s model citizens in an era in which the NFL and bad press are synonymous.
The first black quarterback drafted No. 1 realizes his maturation will never be accepted by some.