Is it OK to cheer for No. 7?

December 13, 2010|By BILL KOHLER

Is it OK to cheer for inmate No. 33765-18327?
Is it OK to cheer for No. 7?
Michael Vick, who is enjoying a life and career resurgence before our eyes this year as the quarterback of the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles, is an incredibly gifted football player.
When he’s playing, it’s hard to take your eyes off of him.
His style of play is exciting, his arm is strong, his courage is mighty.
He’s had such a great season that he will be going to the Pro Bowl and could even win the league’s Most Valuable Player award.
His Eagles likely are on their way to the playoffs, mainly because of his play on the football field. Sunday night, he led his team to an exciting win over the rival Cowboys on national TV.
On the field is not where his problems lie. It’s the off-the-field antics of the former inmate that stir up the debate inside me and football fans.
He was convicted of running a dogfighting ring and at least had some knowledge of serious abuse of dogs, including killing them. His 2007 indictment included the following:
“In or about April of 2007, (co-defendants) and Vick executed approximately eight dogs that did not perform well in ‘testing’ sessions at 1915 Moonlight Road by various methods, including hanging, drowning and slamming at least one dog’s body to the ground.”
Vick pleaded guilty to several charges and served 21 months in prison, followed by two months in home confinement.
He hit rock bottom, personally and financially.
He served his time. He paid his debt to society. Or did he?
Two years later, a man stands before us who’s seized an opportunity and is excelling at his craft. He’s a hero to millions, including thousands of kids who are sporting his No. 7 jersey at home games and on the road.
He’s overcome great adversity and has triumphed. He’s got a decent shot at winning a Super Bowl ring. He’s speaking to schools at least once a week about making better choices, about not being like Mike.  
It’s the classic American tale. Boy does great. Boy gets knocked down — way down. Boy gets up and does great again despite the naysayers and detractors.
But is it OK to cheer? Is it OK put him on a pedestal?
If it is OK to root for this man playing a kid’s game, then how much? When I’m watching a game with my daughter or a nephew and they ask me who is that guy, what do I say?
A great quarterback with a rocket for an arm?
Or a man who did a very bad thing, was punished, got a second chance at life and work and is making the most of it?
I asked John Wetzel, warden of the Franklin County (Pa.) Jail, for his thoughts. Wetzel is a father whose oldest child is 16 and his youngest is 8. He says Vick’s crimes were heinous and inexcusable, but the American criminal justice system was effective in Vick’s case.
“We have the greatest criminal justice system in the world,” he said. “He paid the price. The system is set up on severity. In Pennsylvania, life means life. But if you get out, our society says you get a second chance.”
Wetzel, who’s been the warden in Franklin County for nearly nine years, said if one of his inmates went on to have similar success, “he’d be on our website.”
Wetzel said Vick has been a success story so far, but he has been helped by the Eagles’ wealth of resources. “If most people had those kind of resources, we’d see a lot more success stories,” he said.
“We want people to get out and do well and ... become a productive member of society. So far, he has done that and hopefully he can continue that. I think we have reason to be cautiously optimistic,” he said.
Here’s my take: Vick deserves all the praise he receives on the football field. The man is electrifying between the sidelines and I enjoy watching what he does, even if he plays for a team that embarrassed my favorite team on its home field on national TV last month.
But I’m an underdog, second-chance kind of guy. I don’t condone what he did. His acts were heinous, barbaric and inhumane.
I’m not, however, a third- and fourth-chance kind of guy. As long as Mike Vick continues to keep his nose clean, he deserves all the praise and accolades. He’s handled the media questions, the protests and the whispers with class and grace since he’s been released.
I hope he’s learned his lessons. Sometimes, a man must lose what he cares most about before he can realize what he had, and then he will work hard to get it back. Or at least, he’ll work hard to move on in his life.
If Vick continues to do so, I’ll cheer for No. 7.

Bill Kohler is Tri-State Editor of The Herald-Mail. His column appears regularly and also is available at Reach him at or 800-626-6397, ext. 7281.

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