His athleticism and potential were utterly unmatched, so even though he had not quite lived up to that potential in his first few seasons, the Falcons still believed in him enough to sign him to an unfathomable 10-year, $120 million contract in 2004.
Off the field, there have been a few fairly minor problems, however, mainly surrounding Vick’s apparent unwillingness to sever ties with old friends — by most accounts, Vick comes from a rough background, and some of the friends he has made along the way have been in and out of trouble. One might have said that Vick’s continued involvement with these old friends was as much a sign of his loyalty as his naiveté, even if it caused trouble — or at the very least embarrassment — for him. According to the people who knew him, including his coaches, Vick was a stand-up guy, beyond reproach, a model citizen, and so on.
So when reports first surfaced last April of a possible dogfighting ring on Vick’s property in Virginia, I thought that once again, here was a case of Vick exercising incredibly poor judgment in his personal relationships. When authorities removed 66 dogs from the property — 55 of them pit bulls — it seemed clear enough that Vick would finally be forced to reckon with the damage being done to his reputation by his so-called “friends,” who were using his property as a training ground for dogfighting.
Now, of course, we know better. Last week, after watching his future slowly crumble day by day all summer long, Vick pled guilty to dogfighting charges. What choice did he have? Some of these same friends that Vick has been so loyal to for so long have agreed to testify against him to help themselves. Two of them claim to have traveled to dogfights with Vick and that eight dogs that did not “perform” up to par were executed. Some were drowned, some were hanged. One dog was allegedly held by its hind legs and beaten to death on the ground.
On Friday, Vick entered a plea of guilty to conspiracy in a dogfighting ring and helping to kill pit bulls. His own father, who is estranged from Vick, is on the record as having warned his son to quit dogfighting. Somehow, with each passing day the story continues to get worse and worse. Vick has been suspended indefinitely, and the Falcons are already trying to get out from under the enormous contract they were so happy to sign less than three years ago.
There is a very good chance Vick will go to jail, and a strong possibility that he will never again play professional football. He has certainly squandered tens of millions of dollars in endorsement deals alone, regardless of whatever he winds up losing playing football. In just a few months, he has gone from hero to pariah. It is almost painful now to watch Vick walk down the street, surrounded by lawyers, booed loudly by fans that once adored him.
And yet, it is difficult to muster much sympathy for him. He had it all, and he blew it over a fascination with dogs tearing each other to shreds, a loathsome bloodsport, a disgusting and depraved “entertainment” for the developmentally, emotionally, and spiritually disabled among us.
At the risk of “committing sociology,” to borrow a phrase from columnist George Will, maybe some good can come from Vick’s fall from grace. In our culture, we are so obsessed with celebrity that we make instant heroes of anyone who can throw a ball a long way or dunk a basketball in the eighth grade or throw a baseball 95 miles per hour. I don’t know if making such physically gifted youngsters idols at such an early age fosters a sense of invincibility, of being above the rules that govern the behavior of mere mortals, but I would bet that it often does.
I doubt that Vick’s case will result in a wholesale change in our cultural values, but at the very least it has revealed the horrors of dogfighting to the masses, the dangers of worshipping false idols to the fans, and the reality of harsh consequences to any idol or idol-in-the-making who believes he can get away with absolutely anything.