What you think about Michael Vick and tonight's BET doc depends upon a bunch of stuff, most notably whether you even know who he is - which would seem inconceivable.
But just in case, the shorthand: He was one of the most coveted college quarterbacks of the last decade - a double threat who could run and pass with accuracy and who entered the draft after he had barely learned his way around the Virginia Tech campus. The Falcons picked him up, later signing him to a deal worth $130 m, then the richest in NFL history. If all that looked like a prescription for trouble, it was - young kid out of the projects (of Newport News) with enough cash to build a stadium much less play in one, and who also happened to have had a bad habit, notably dog fighting. Got caught. Spent time in jail. Became a lightning rod - PETA and dog lovers everywhere vs. those who said he was a black star persecuted by media and white fans who had no idea of the culture and world he had emerged from.
Tonight, he settles the argument: "It was all my fault," he says of his past. "I'm on a mission to get it back. Not the money and fame but to restore my family's good name."
He goes into some detail about what happened, but not all that much. After the NFL windfall, he bought a chunk of property up in Surry County, Va. - parked a doublewide there, and brought friends from the old days over to hang out. A mansion was built. The dog population increased, from 20 to 68. Kennels were put up. The compound spread out. "I wanted notoriety in the dog game," he says.
Mission most definitely accomplished. A cousin later stopped by cops had three ounces of pot on him, told cops where he lived - the compound - and Vick's world caved. He was on the golf course at the time of the arrest. Vick lost his contract, respect, freedom - the time in jail - and for a while his career. Only for a while - signed with the Eagles as a back-up to Donavan McNabb last season, got some playing time and displayed some fo the old flash and dash.
Tonight's doc doesn't go this far - but it's got time. This half-hour is the first part of seven and BET promises a full look at his life before, during and after. It's all meant as a cautionary tale: "Michael Vick's story is about second chances..." said Loretha Jones, chief of original programming for BET. "What happened to Michael is endemic of what is happening to young Black men today. Michael could be anyone's brother, father, uncle or son..."
That of course is total bull but at least that gives you an idea of what to expect, because "The Michael Vick Project" seems more about restoring an image and career, and less about exploring his life, talent and crime. What kind of crime was it? You won't really find out here, nor do you learn much about the spectacular talent of this guy who - at least on camera - comes across as remorseful and intent on rebuilding a ruined life and career. That's his prerogative, but it's not a bad idea to keep in mind what he did as you watch...
Here are a couple of graphs from a story written by George Dohrmann, the Sports Illustrated writer who extensively reported on Vick back in '07:
“A long building held numerous kennels, each of which contained at least one dog. Most were American pit bull terriers. Some had wounds on their ears, necks and front legs. Contrary to early reports, those 30 or so dogs were not emaciated, nor were the roughly 30 pit bulls found in the woods, tied to car axles buried in the ground. ‘Give the dogfighter his due,’ [animal control officer Kathy Strouse, who investigated Vick] says. ‘It is not in his interest to starve his dogs.’
It was clear to Strouse, who has been an animal control officer for 22 years, that some of the animals had been used in fights, but not until she climbed a stepladder to the second story of the largest of the black buildings was she convinced that fights had been staged on the property. In a room about 16 feet square Strouse found blood: a smear on one wall, splashes near the base of walls, a spattering on a jacket hanging from an air conditioner. She also found a dogtooth on a bucket. Yet the most convincing evidence that this was the ‘pit’ -- the dogfighting arena -- was the rectangular area in the middle of the room devoid of blood. ‘Dogfighters put down carpet to give their dogs traction,’ Strouse says.
Investigators would eventually find a bloodstained carpet elsewhere on the property, and later Strouse would proclaim to a friend, ‘We got him. We got Michael Vick.’"