x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Moving on will be tough for Vick

Long before Michael Vick had arrived at his press conference to announce his return to professional football, he had already been given a taste of what life was going to be like for him in Philadelphia.

Long before Michael Vick had arrived at his press conference to announce his return to professional football, he had already been given a taste of what life was going to be like for him in Philadelphia. His picture was spread across three quarters of the front page of the Philadelphia Daily News. Super imposed below his face was a screaming headline that read: "HIDE YOUR DOGS."

Such is life for a guy who two years ago was one of the NFL's marquee players until he was indicted for running an illegal dog-fighting ring. Vick was immediately suspended by the Atlanta Falcons, within months he had pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 23-months in prison. Freed from custody last month, Vick was by then bankrupt and forced by a bankruptcy judge to turn over any earnings above US$750,000 (Dh2.7million) if he found employment to pay off his many creditors.

It was unclear for a time if anyone in the NFL would hire him after Commissioner Roger Goodell said he could attend training camp and play in the final two exhibition games but would not assure him that he would be allowed to play this season, a decision Goodell will make by the season's sixth week. But professional football being the violent game it is, the Eagles' back up quarterback Kevin Kolb went down hurt on Monday and by the end of the week Vick was back at work, agreeing to a one-year, $1.6m contract with a team option worth $5.2m for a second year, a bargain if Vick is still Vick.

On his first day at work, Vick drove into the Eagles' complex for a press conference and outside were a number of protesters, one of whom waved a sign "Hide Your Beagles, Vick's An Eagle.'' He acknowledgedthat after not playing for two and a half years he is far from ready to be the quarterback of the Eagles, a job held by Donovan McNabb. That was the theme throughout a half-hour long media grilling. Vick admitted he had "done some terrible things" and said he was working with the Humane Society to publicly fight the kind of animal cruelty he was involved in, which included not only dog fighting but electrocuting and hanging dogs who were reluctant fighters.

"I know playing in the NFL is a privilege not a right," Vick said. "I'm happy to have a second chance. I won't disappoint." He has already disappointed some Eagle fans just by showing up. Local polls were running 2-1 against him and some fans reportedly put their season tickets up for sale on eBay. Vick became the first quarterback to rush for 1,000 yards in a season and led a mediocre Falcon team to the play-offs several times. Now he is trying to make a new start in a place that already has a Pro Bowl quarterback and with a long shadow lingering over him.

Vick said having to tell his children he was going to prison had been "a humbling experience". So too had to have been when he was asked when it first struck him that he had done wrong. "Before the allegations even came out I knew it was wrong," he said. "I was conscious of it. Everything that happened at that point in my life was wrong. For the life of me I can't understand why I was involved in such a pointless activity.

"When I tried to turn the corner it was too late. To this day I have to deal with that shame and that embarrassment. Everyone deserves a second chance but you only get one shot at a second chance. I'm conscious of that." If he was not, there were plenty of people not far away anxious to remind him. rborges@thenational.ae