Sometimes a talent comes along that is so breathtaking, so pure, that it leaves you almost speechless. When even the members of an opposing team perk up and pay close attention so that they don’t miss that one moment of action, that one amazing “did you see that!” play, then you know you’re looking at someone special, a once in a generation comet blazing a trail through the sports firmament. When Michael Jordan laced up his sneakers, stadiums sold out and television ratings soared. You never knew when he’d invent some incredible move on the basketball court that even he didn’t realize he was about to pull off.
There have been a few players like that who have made their marks on the football field — Gale Sayers in the open field, Dan Fouts and his corps of receivers in San Diego, Joe Montana in playoff games and Super Bowls. One of them was quarterback Michael Vick, the first round draft pick out of Virginia Tech in 2001 as a sophomore- a draft selection unprecedented in the history of the National Football League.
Playing for the Atlanta Falcons, Vick immediately had success, leading them to the playoffs his second year in the league, and defeating the Green Bay Packers in Lambeau Field, Wisconsin, in a snow storm in January of 2003, ending Green Bay’s undefeated record there in playoff games. Vick was a good quarterback- although he has a great arm, his numbers and quarterback rating were average at best- but fans got their money’s worth when he tucked the ball and took off running when his receivers were covered. The fastest man on the field, he easily outran linemen and linebackers, and even the speed men on the defense had difficulty catching or tackling him. One moment that left opponents shaking their heads occurred during an away game in New Orleans, when Vick ran up the middle on a broken play, streaking so fast that he caused two Saints linebackers to look like members of the Keystone Cops as they collided head on into each other in a futile attempt to tackle Vick, who was already yards past them on his way to the goal line.
In 2006, his last year in the league, he ran for more than 1,000 yards, setting the record for most yards rushing by a quarterback, but more importantly to the Falcons, he was a winner — when he wasn’t injured — twice leading them to the playoffs, in 2002 and 2004.
Which is why the world — both inside and outside sports — was so stunned and shocked a little more than two years ago when Michael Vick’s life caved in on him after he was caught in the criminal investigation of an interstate dog fighting ring Vick founded and bankrolled.
The words of the federal indictment charging Vick and some of the friends he grew up with in Newport News, Va., were prosaic, bland even. Paragraph 10: “In or about early 2002, PEACE, PHILLIPS, TAYLOR and VICK established a dog fighting business enterprise known as ‘Bad Newz Kennels.’ At one point, the defendants obtained shirts and headbands representing and promoting their affiliation with “Bad Newz Kennels’.”
But the truth was that this “enterprise” was more akin to the depredations of a sociopath who set neighborhood cats on fire than a business enterprise boyhood friends joined into for profit. The descriptions that came out of the investigation were chilling, disgusting. Vick admitted that he was personally involved in the killing of dogs that did not perform well during “testing” sessions at his property. Some of the dogs were killed by hanging them. Others were electrocuted or held under water until they drowned. One dog was slammed into the ground until he broke and died. Vick had family pet dogs put into the ring with killer pit bulls to watch them get torn to bits.
Those acts weren’t “mistakes.” They weren’t “errors in judgment.” They weren’t “lapses.” And they are not the acts of a human being who can be rehabilitated. They are the acts of a predator, a sociopath. Like child molesters, rapists, and serial killers, they may follow society’s rules when it is convenient to them, but they have no ability to empathize. They can’t feel other’s pain. They will never internalize the feelings they may show on the surface to emulate true human beings who would never dream of torturing the family pet or using cruel forms of execution to kill helpless dogs who failed to “perform.”
So when you see Michael Vick on the football field for the Philadelphia Eagles this fall (they play the Falcons later in the season), don’t be fooled by any outward signs of contrition, by any press conferences or Sixty Minutes appearances. He may say all the right things; he may look like a decent human being. But underneath, he’s Ted Bundy. And nothing can ever change the essential core of a human being who has lost his humanity- or who never had it.
Written by Jim Finkelstein.
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