If you happened to watch Michael Vick's interview on "60 Minutes" this past Sunday, then you may have been witness to the first stop in the most half-hearted redemption tour ever staged.
As you may remember, in 2007, Michael Vick's Virginia farm was raided. The Feds believed Vick, then the quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons as well as the farm's owner, was the proprietor of a dog-fighting ring. Dog fighting paraphernalia was seized, pit bulls were confiscated, and at least 6 dogs were exhumed from various shallow graves on the property. Vick was arrested. He lied to everyone about it. The NFL Commisioner, the owner of the Falcons, anyone watching TV who cared to listen. But it turned out dog-fighting was only the backdrop for the really sick stuff Vick did on that farm.
The indictment the Feds read out painted Vick to be the Papa Doc Duvalier of dog killers. Any way you can think of to kill a dog, Vick did it. Shot. Electrocuted. Drowned. Vick did it. Dog fighting is one thing -- well it's lots of things, but the kind of cold-blooded, personal and sadistic way Vick ended dogs' lives went well-beyond an illicit gambling operation. Goes well beyond questions of a "culture" that accepted dog fighting as a way of life. Hearing that indictment, people I knew who had rooted for the guy wondered what sort of person could do that. I was one of them. He went away for 18 months for a misdemeanor. He got out, and seemingly within minutes, he got a football contract with the Philadelphia Eagles. I wondered how an NFL team would explain their decision to hire Vick. Not that they couldn't or shouldn't, but I was curious to see how the battle to make it all okay was going to be fought.
His appearance on "60 Minutes" was to be the centerpiece of his "I'm sorry" tour, wherein he could persuade people that, like William Munny in "Unforgiven", he really "wasn't like that anymore." I came away deeply unconvinced. He seemed overly reliant on pre-written phrases ("put it all in perspective", "all because of the so-called culture"), cheap contrition ("I feel bad inside") and it all just seemed forced. In a clip they had of him speaking to a group on the evils of dog-fighting, he seemed to be struggling to remember the lines he was supposed to say.
In flashes though, I think his actual feelings made it through the stage-managed act. For instance, after James Brown details the ways Vick killed dogs, the aforementioned shooting, drowning, electrocuting, Vick sighs and says, "I don't know how many times I have to say it..." How about once? When asked why he cried at night, Vick didn't once mention dogs, or what he'd done to them. The overriding impression I get is that he's sorry he got caught. The interview showed not that he was sorry or changed, just that he could repeat the talking points his image management team told him to say.
Whether it's correct that, after serving his time, he should or should not be allowed to resume his football career is another issue. I'm of two minds on it myself. But what's at issue here is this: has Vick changed? Does he think that what he did to those animals was "disgusting," as he worded it in the interview? He says he has. But when he says he didn't feel disgust for what he'd done until the bars clanged shut his first night in jail, or when he continues to say he deeply regrets "the things I let go on," my inclination is to believe that he hasn't changed. He didn't let electrocuting a dog "go on", he actually did it himself. Same with the one he drowned, same with the ones he shot.
Here's the clip of the interview. Take a look and decide for yourself whether you think he's being sincere. Some of it I might put down to his not being a super bright guy, which is certainly not a crime, but my first read is that he isn't sorry yet. He still doesn't get it. He probably won't stage dog fights again, just because that would be beyond reckless, even for him, but I'm not at all persuaded he understands the reason for the public anger.
The whole sordid business has soured me on professional football. In the end, no matter how much the NFL Commissioner talks about how much he himself really loves dogs, no matter how often the Eagles owner says he expected a certain amount of "self hate" from Vick before he signed him, and no matter how awesome a mentoring job Tony Dungee does to make Vick a stellar human being, the fact that the whole charade is being perpetrated at all is because there are dollars yet to be made off of Vick playing football. Because this is true, people who want money will line up to make it off him, dog killer or no. It's something you know in your bones anyway: none of these guys is playing for the love of the game (who knows how many years its been since that was true), but to have the skin of civility ripped off the enterprise so brazenly is dispiriting.
One gets the feeling watching this play out, that it almost doesn't matter what Vick had done. If he was in playing shape when he got out of jail, someone who liked money would put a football in his hand and a fat check in his pocket, and Vick would go on "60 Minutes" and say how drunk driving is wrong, or domestic violence is wrong, or bar fighting that ends in death is wrong, and he'd play some football.
And you can be certain, no matter what he did, his image management team would make sure it was hard-hitting investigative reporter James Brown asking the questions.