APRIL 26TH, 2008
Michael Vick is in the middle of his sentence at Leavenworth Federal Prison. Behind those walls, while his mother celebrated her
45th birthday. It was also the anniversary of his grandmother’s death. Vick certainly wanted to be with his family on that day, and the gravity of being away from them weighing on his shoulders from the inside of a cell, what could be worse?
That same day the Atlanta Falcons drafted Matt Ryan, effectively replacing Michael Vick as the quarterback of the franchise.
“I remember it vividly. Can you imagine what that was like? My heart is in football. I love football. I love the game. It’s what I was born to do.”
Those are Michael Vick’s words as a room full of NFL Rookies listen on at the annual Rookie Symposium on Monday during a seminar called “Are You Bigger Than the Game?” No story was more dramatic, enthralling, and tragic then Michael Vick’s.
On an April day when he was emotionally drained already he watched as the last thing he loved, maybe what was keeping him together through the hard times behind that wall left them. Maybe it was Michael Vick’s proverbial bottom, the moment where you realize you have to change.
“I’m a firm believer in God, and I believe in karma,” said Vick, who will turn 32 on Tuesday and get married Saturday. “If you do so much, if you cross so many people, if you don’t appreciate what God gave you and the position that you’re in, he’ll take that away from you. And he took it away from me.”
“As I sat in a prison cell, I understood why I was in there. That’s bad. You don’t want to end up that way. True story: I could see it all coming. I could see it happening. I thought about it. I asked myself, ‘Should I stop doing what I was doing?’ And I didn’t stop. That’s having no discipline.”
Michael Vick had an epiphany. He went on to talk his lack of dedication and preparation during his early years in Atlanta. Most notably, why was he flying back to his hometown, and scene of the crime, Newport News, VA every week instead of staying at the Atlanta Falcons facilities and preparing for the upcoming weeks’ game.
“The game is going to go along, with or without you,” Vick said. “You control your destiny. You dictate how long you’re going to play in the league. It’s all up to you. It’s about commitment, dedication, preparation.
“I flew home every week (for his Tuesday off) when I should have been in the film room getting better,” he said.
Vick said that it is important not to have too many “yes men” around you. That these people lead you to believe you can do no wrong and steer you down the wrong path. He went on to say he now calls Eagles head coach Andy Reid and Tony Dungy amongst his confidants now that he turns to.
“Sometimes you think you know it all,” Vick said. “You’ve got a lot of learning to do, a lot of life to live, people you’re going to come in contact with. You’ve got to make a decision: Should I trust this person or that person? It’s going to be difficult. You’ve got to lean on certain people. Find that one person. One or two people who can steer you in that right direction.”
Vick jokingly said a few “yes men” were ok. But he got serious when explaining that there would be friends from the past that you’d have to part ways with, who don’t have your best interests at heart. He said this was a lesson he learned the hard way. Vick wasn’t strong enough to say no to certain people.
“Everybody makes their own decisions,” Vick said. “Your friend can’t make you do something you really don’t want to do if you’re strong enough to say no.”
“The best thing for me to do was going to prison, being able to separate myself. I wasn’t strong enough to get away from them. I wasn’t strong enough to say, ‘We’re not going this direction. I ain’t living like this no more. We can’t condone this type of activity.’ I wasn’t strong enough. I needed the legal system to say, ‘You all can’t be around each other anymore.’ That’s the situation I created.”
With so many people talking about professional athletes, like Terrell Owens, Curt Schilling, or Antoine Walker, who are broke relatively soon Michael Vick addressed the “financial advisor” plague to the rookies. That was another lesson Vick had to learn the hard way.
“Trust yourself,” Vick said. “Everyone in here can count, right? Raise your hand if you can count. Shoot, I can count. Count your own money. You make it. You don’t need an accountant and all that — that dog and pony show. That’s just extra. An extra invoice that you’re going to get.
“Get a couple people you’re going to trust — that you’re going to get to know. There are people out there that you can trust. My situation? I had a couple of judgments against me. People who were holding my money while I was in prison weren’t paying my debts. And I had money to pay it.”
Vick with the benefit of hindsight told the rookies what they should do if they find themselves getting into trouble and going down the wrong path:
Be honest with Commissioner Roger Goodell.
“I got that chance to do it again, thanks to Roger Goodell,” Vick said. “Fellas, don’t get it twisted. This man is the real deal. He don’t play. If he asks you a question, answer with honesty. Tell him the truth. If you got into some trouble, be honest, truthful, forthright. Don’t play with this man. He’ll love you to death, but the minute you cross him, he’ll be all the way turned up.”
Vick drove home his point, that he is the exception, not the rule. You can’t expect second chances even though he got one and has made the best of it.
“Once this is over, it’s over,” Vick said. “I’ve seen a lot of dudes come and go. I’m blessed God gave me the talent to still be here. But don’t take this for granted. I could be gone tomorrow. You’ve got one hell of an opportunity.”
“Enjoy the ride. Congratulations.”