Michael Vick’s “award” in Baltimore: Lots of folks are barking

December 24, 2009 | Drew Forrester

When does a guy get a chance to be normal again?

News trickled out yesterday that Eagles quarterback Michael Vick has been nominated by his teammates in Philadelphia as the recipient of this year’s “Ed Block Courage Award” for the Eagles.

And the folks in Baltimore are “foaming at the mouth” – to borrow a term that connects both the outrage of some people and Vick’s troubling times with dog fighting.

My e-mail inbox was crammed with irate missives on Wednesday.  You can only imagine the content.

“This guy should NEVER win an award for anything the rest of his life,” John wrote.

“It’s despicable to say the least,” wrote Steve.  “This was the best candidate in Philly?  A dog killer and a criminal?  Says a lot about that Eagles organization doesn’t it?”

“Ed Block must be rolling over in his grave over this one.”

Wow.

Maybe I’m just getting soft in my parenting, middle-age days, but the announcement of Vick’s award yesterday was about as unsettling to me as the mail running 30 minutes late.

It didn’t bother me at all.

I’m not really sure why the Eagles chose Vick for the award…I haven’t asked them.  The honor is designated for a player that showed “extreme courage” in meeting a physical or personal challenge.  We all assume that must ONLY mean either an injury or some other kind of setback that required a player to rebound either on or off the field.

Well, from where I sit, Michael Vick has made one helluva rebound over the last 10 months or so.  This time last year, he was incarcerated for his part in running a dog fighting ring.  He lost a great deal of his wealth in the process, as the government came swooping in to penalize him for tax issues and money laundering.

Michael Vick wrecked his own life.

Almost.

He didn’t completely wreck it, though, because he’s still alive and he’s still employed and he’s still trying to make amends for the crimes he committed.

And it would appear, based on his behavior over the last 7 months, that Michael Vick is making good on his promise to turn his life around and be a good, upstanding member of the community.

When does a guy get a chance to be normal again?

Once out of prison, Vick – like anyone else who “did his time” – could either become a recidivist and make a return to behind-bars or he could get out and go on the straight and narrow.

And if he couldn’t take advantage of his “2nd chance”, I’d be fully supportive of the nasty e-mails and the derisive comments.

But he HAS made an effort to fulfill his promise that he’d prove to everyone that he was capable of being an outstanding member of his community.

If you don’t think Michael Vick deserved that chance, you’re not as American as you think you are.

I don’t have a problem with Michael Vick winning the Ed Block Courage Award.

I have no idea what he’s gone through over the last 7 months since he returned to civilized life, but I’d be willing to wager that a lot of what Vick has endured has been “uncivilized”.  Can you imagine what he heard when he trotted out of the tunnel at Oakland Coliseum on October 18?  I assume it hasn’t been all peaches and cream for him in Philadelphia, either, where the fans there have long been known for having no heart and inflicting cruel and unusual punishment on both their own athletes and visting players as well.

Go ahead and insert your “cruel and unusual punishment” comments here — as they relate to what Michael Vick did to those dogs in his backyard.

It was wrong.

Big time.

And that’s why he was incarcerated.  And that’s why he lost all of his money.  And that’s why his life was in shambles.  And that’s why he’s on his last chance, basically.

And that’s why the Eagles were right for selecting Vick for the award.

A lot of people bet against him.  A lot of people said, “That Vick is a piece of s**t.  He’ll never be a good guy.  Once a thug, always a thug.”

Right now, anyway – and it’s early on in the process – Vick is making those who bet against him look bad.

And at the root of it all, perhaps that’s what’s bothering people the most.

Folks who bet against Vick because “a leopard’s spots never go away” are looking like they were wrong.  It’s weird, really, the way we function in society.  Sometimes we like to watch someone rebound and overcome obstacles and “prove everyone wrong” and sometimes we don’t.  Sometimes what matters most is the color of someone’s skin.  That’s still a sad dose of reality in our culture today.  But it’s reality.

In Vick’s case, he’ll spend the rest of his life paying for his poor decisions and awful behavior.

Some people will no doubt say, “But 7 months isn’t enough time to recognize this guy as rehabilitated and/or having paid his debt society.”

To that I say:  When IS the right time?  1 year?  2 years?  5 years?

Look, it’s not like the Nobel Peace Prize folks are bestowing that honor on Vick.  He’s not being recognized by LIFE Magazine as their “Humanitarian of the Year”.  It’s an award from a small charitable group in Baltimore.  Ask anyone in Valrico, Florida what the Ed Block Courage Award is and they’ll say, “Couldn’t tell you.”  There are folks right here in Maryland who don’t know what it is, frankly.  So let’s all remember that this award – and the Foundation – while serving its community well, isn’t giving Michael Vick a $100,00 check for his great work.  It’s akin to being honored as an Eagle Scout, really.  Your family and close friends care for about 3 months.

I’ll again go back to the question I asked above.  When IS the right time to applaud Michael Vick?

We all know for sure of one thing:  Had he experienced a criminal or personal hiccup three months into his return to freedom, everyone would have written him off as incorrigible.  Right?  Of course.  So at the 7-month mark, or thereabouts, isn’t it somewhat fair of the Eagles players to say, “You know what, you’re off to a really good start, Michael.  Keep up the good work.”

Isn’t it acceptable for his teammates to pat him on the back and say, “We know this whole thing continues to be a work in progress for you.  And we can see you’re trying hard.  And we can see that you’re serious about making amends for what you did wrong.  And we just want you to know we like what we’ve seen so far.”

Isn’t that a good gesture?

I think so.  Maybe you don’t.

So, to me, just because he’s not even a year into his “new life” that doesn’t mean that he shouldn’t be allowed to receive a reward – or award – for changing his life and trying to be contributor to the goodwill of his community.

If he would have failed in that endeavor, people would say, “I told you that guy was a bum…”

So as he continues on the path he obligated himself to, why is it that he can’t be recognized for that?

Is it because you bet against him?

Is it because you privately hoped he would fail?

If so, I can see where you’d be disappointed about this whole Ed Block Courage Award issue.  It’s never fun to be wrong when you make a character assessment on someone.

When Michael Vick accepts the award in March, all he needs to say is this:  “I appreciate the fact that people have given me the opportunity to prove that I’m going to work hard every day to become a positive contributor to my community.  I’ll spend the rest of my life doing that.  And as long as I fulfill the obligation I made to myself, the people I’ve hurt and the NFL, I feel like I’m on the right path.”

Leonard Little is a former Ed Block Courage Award winner.

Remember him?

He’s the NFL player who was convicted not once, but twice, of drunk driving.  And in one of those incidents, he was involved in a motor vehicle accident that killed an innocent driver.   He was eventually convicted of involuntary manslaughter.

And he won the award in 2005.

I don’t seem to recall the outrage back then, but maybe I’m just not “rememebering correctly”, as Roger Clemens once said.

Michael Vick will be here in March to accept his award.  From my vantage point, he fits the criteria the folks at Ed Block established.  He’s an NFL player who had a “difficulty” or “an obstacble” or “an injury” or some other life-changing/career changing incident that required courage and intestinal fortitude to overcome.

And, according to his teammates in Philadelphia, it’s time someone recognized Michael Vick for his rebound.

Eventually, a guy deserves a chance to be normal again.

For Michael Vick, that might not ever really happen.  But he deserves the chance.

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