The NFL’s hottest quarterback made an admission to a throng of screaming fans inside Wilbur Cross High School Tuesday: He’s a haunted man.
Michael Vick quieted an auditorium full of cheering students to tell them about living with the legacy of having run a vicious dogfighting ring that derailed his career.
“It still haunts me to this day, all the wrong things that I did to those dogs,” Vick told the now-silent students. “All I want to do now is help more animals than I hurt.”
The Philadelphia Eagles star visited both Cross and Hillhouse in New Haven as part of a redemption tour. Accompanying him was New Haven native (and former Green Party aldermanic candidate) Wayne Pacelle, the CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.
Vick talked to the kids about what he did to the pit bulls that he bred and trained to fight, then cast off.
Vick told the students that growing up in Newport News, Va., he didn’t know that dogfighting was wrong. He said he ignored advice to stop as he grew into an adult—and became the top pick in the NFL draft. He described how he felt like he was carrying around a dark secret when he was playing for the Atlanta Falcons and flying back to Virginia every weekend to fight his dogs.
One day, when it was time to get rid of some of the dogs, Vick said, he suddenly wondered whether God would judge him for what he had done.
Four days later, he was indicted on federal charges.
“That was my conscience,” Vick said.
Vick pleaded guilty and served nearly two years in federal prison. The NFL suspended him, and the Falcons cut him.
As he prepared to leave jail, Vick said he was looking for a way to atone. He approached the Humane Society about doing outreach. CEO Pacelle said he was skeptical going into their first meeting, but said he was immediately taken by Vick’s penitence.
Pacelle now travels the country with Vick, visiting schools and spreading the message that animal cruelty—from dogfighting to factory farms—is wrong.
Tuesday was Vick’s day off from football, so he woke up early, got on the train and headed for New Haven.
Vick told students at Cross and Hillhouse that they should stay away from all forms of violence, and avail themselves of the opportunity to get an education.
“You gotta hold yourself accountable. You gotta be responsible,” Vick said. “Don’t let your environment shape and mold you.”
Vick, whose sincerity has been questioned since he joined forces with the Humane Society, especially now that he’s back in the sports spotlight, came across as genuinely contrite. He called his actions “pointless” and said he was “embarrassed” and “ashamed” at what he’d done.
He added that God is using him to raise awareness of the issue; many states and the federal government have tightened their laws involving dogfighting in the wake of the notoriety surrounding his case.
“If you fight dogs, you’ll get a prison sentence,” he said.
These days, Vick said, what he really wants is to be able to get the dog his young daughter is begging for—something that he’s currently forbidden to do.
Tuesday’s appearances elicited infectious enthusiasm from the students—plenty of cries of “I love you, Michael!” but, surprisingly, no shouts of encouragement for the New York Giants, who lost to the Eagles Sunday night. After both speeches, kids raced to get close to Vick. When he casually referred to one female student as “baby,” there were whoops and howls from the audience.
Will the anti-cruelty message sink in?
“Kids are ready to listen to this guy,” Pacelle said. “I think he has a great message, and I’m just grateful for his participation.”
Vick said he works hard to calm down the school crowds so that his words resonate.
“It’s great to have the opportunity, but the most important thing is bearing down on the message,” he said. “I try to make sure they understand the reason that I’m here.”
Cross junior Vernasia Miller said Vick’s speech made her think. She’s considering starting a Humane Society club at the school, one of the ideas offered during the presentation.
Miller said that some kids think dogfighting is glamorous because of Vick’s association with it, but that his talk hopefully dispelled those thoughts.
“It really made me say we really should stand up and do more things for animals,” Miller said.
Vick said he understands that some people can never forgive him, but that he’ll keep trying to prove that he understands the magnitude of his crimes and wants to make a difference.
“I’m very thankful, and I’m going to take advantage of the opportunity,” he said.
Dogs are completely reliant on humans to survive. This maniac tortured, fought, and killed them for gambling.. and the message he pumps out is “If you fight dogs, you’ll get a prison sentence”?
No mention of how it’s morally and ethically wrong? How a human can take something so innocent and do what he did is beyond me, and I hope he never gets to be near another animal again. He’s a monster and is only doing this for his image.
posted by: streever on November 23, 2010 5:02pm
Perhaps when Mr Vick manages to help more dogs than he has hurt, he should embark on a nationwide tour to speak about it.
Oh wait. He went straight to the PR.
Really, I’m not sure what the “inspirational” story he has is. “I did something bad, served a little time, and now I’m making millions again.”?
posted by: skeptical on November 23, 2010 5:14pm
I think his publicist needs to work harder than this! He is only sorry because he got caught. I don’t buy it for a second.
posted by: Michaelangelo on November 23, 2010 5:34pm
Or (James) he went to prison and had two years to really think about his actions. Now, due to his celebrity, he’s in a position to influence youths to possibly help animals.
Yeah, it’s an image thing, but me or you giving that type of speech wouldn’t have the same impact. In my opinion, that’s where you miss the point of this outreach.
I’m a dog owner and I can appreciate the fact that he is going around the country and speaking in communities where dog fighting is prevelant. If he can impact a handful of youths…think about the number of dogs he’s saving.
Kudos to the Humane Society for using Mr. Vick in this manner. Call him whatever names you will, but he’s a human being like me and you and everyone should have a chance at redemption. Afterall, if you lived by the same ethics and morals you preach than forgiveness should come natural.
posted by: Matthew Sherman on November 23, 2010 5:45pm
I’m a LONG time Philadelphia Eagles fan. I’m very proud of Michael Vick for what he has done and for what he continues to do. With that being said, I think it’s quite sad that out of all the worthy causes in this world today people choose to take a stand on dogs. There are people getting treated worst than those pit bulls that he tortured. Not THAT is SAD!!!! The man did his time, apologized and is now trying to make amends. What else does he need to do for people that he owes nothing to?????
posted by: anon on November 23, 2010 5:47pm
Does NHPS serve meat from factory farms?
posted by: THREEFIFTHS on November 23, 2010 5:55pm
Crooked politicians of the two party system have rob more from the people and have server half of the time he has severed.
posted by: Kat on November 23, 2010 6:25pm
Ha, he traveled all the way to New Haven? Whoa, dedication. Maybe because places in Philly won’t have him. Funny, when he was offered the chance to meet dogs saved from HIS ring last season in San Francisco he said NO. Wayne Pacelle is with him because they are hated alike by animal advocates. Ask Pacelle about the policies that resulted in the creation of Oreo’s law to stop what he has done. Weird Vick’s little speech doesn’t mention killing his first dog at age 8 with his own hands. I was an Eagles fan for over 30 years, but this is crap. People are pathetic for forgiving him to fulfill their own failed dreams through the Eagles.
posted by: new haven resident on November 23, 2010 7:11pm
I think he had time to think, none of us are perfect, there is a thing called forgiving..I am happy he has to make tours and talk about the mistreatment of animals…so what he makes millions, you can too if you play for NFL…Good job Michael Vick
posted by: embarrasing on November 23, 2010 9:37pm
the nhpd has reached a new low. a bunch of cops walking and with this guy and acting like a bunch of teenage groupies. what an embarrassment.i bet they all got pictures and autographs too. from patrolmen to capts and sgts. ... do you remember what that man is about.
Michael Vick and Bill Cosby in New Haven on the same day(WOW)—here to inspire our youth—along with the Promise(thank you Yale) and the New Haven Reform movement and parents being asked to really get involved and having the power to help us make this the educational mecca of the U.S.—-the foundation is being laid—the cooperation is unbelievable—and our combined mission has been determined—for all you naysayers—get on board or we’ll leave you at the gate—-TOGETHER we can make a difference—-divided we can’t—-(look at Hartford)—Happy Thanksgiving, Tom
Only when Michael Vick goes vegan will he show credible opposition to animal cruelty. Unfortunately, he has not chosen a credible tutor in that guy Pacelle and his animal exploitation corporation the Humane $ociety of the U.$., paid at least $50,000 to try to rehabilitate Vick’s image, after H$U$ said Vick’s dogs could not be rehabilitated and should be killed. What will Vick learn from Pacelle when his H$U$ promotes eating veal, and partners with animal killing Iams dog food which even experiments on dogs. H$U$ supports dog breeding and profits from the sale of dog food with animal ingredients. Vick needs a lot better coaching than that!
posted by: Bill on November 24, 2010 8:53am
I believe that Vick is going around to schools giving these talks as a condition of his probation.
posted by: cc on November 24, 2010 10:38am
New Haven should be ashamed for allowing Vick to come here. What an awful message for kids. Streever is right—what are kids going to learn from this? “Hey, you can do something really terrible, then everyone will forget about it when you get out of prison and you’ll go back to being grossly overpaid and overpraised”? He’s not sorry.
I happened by as he was leaving. The carnival atmosphere belied the notion that anyone was there to hear a serious message. Celebrity worship was the order of the day. Yeccchhhh.
posted by: pat on November 24, 2010 1:17pm
Michael Vick is to be congratulated for his changed consciousness and his efforts to affect others. Those of you who mock his efforts need to get in touch with your own compassion and empathy. Cruelty is not innate in most people. It is learned and it can be unlearned. Mr. Vick paid his debt to society by serving his time. I believe in redemption and not in throwing people away. He has earned his forgiveness.
posted by: Kumbaya on November 24, 2010 1:40pm
I am glad Michael Vick has “paid his debt to society”, but I can’t say I would want him anywhere near kids right now.
posted by: streever on November 24, 2010 2:03pm
CC: Thank you, that is exactly what I think.
I just think his comment is so disingenuous: “I want to help more dogs than I hurt”
Really? go use your millions of dollars to do that, and when you’ve ACHIEVED it, not thought about it, then you get some pr.
posted by: Forgiving but not naive on November 24, 2010 2:35pm
Pat, cruelty is not innate in most, but in some it is. Michael Vick is likely a sociopath, in which case, violence is innate. He killed an animal with his own hands at 8 years of age. He continued the cruelty well into adulthood. He couldn’t have had an epiphany during his short sentence. It does not happen that way. And yes, I am a mental health professional. Sociopaths also know how to charm people and the system which is what I believe he is doing now. And it is probably part of his probation stipulations.
posted by: NH mom on November 24, 2010 3:35pm
I am outraged that the New Haven Public School system actually let this man come and talk to our children!!! Bill Cosby was in town yesterday too, why couldn’t we get him? I agree with Streever, this is NOT the message we want to send to our youths!!!
posted by: Kumbaya on November 24, 2010 4:09pm
Vick is a professional athlete, and stands to make a fortune from endorsements. But this only works if his public image is rehabilitated (see, for example, the Tiger Woods debacle—that cost him millions, even though it had nothing to do with his prowess as a golfer). And he rehabilitates himself by talking to school children about what a naughty man he was…
So as far as I can see, he stands to gain a great deal financially from this sort of “volunteerism”—the fawning attentions of the NHPD can’t be that unpleasant to a recently incarcerated felon, either.
If he had done something that REALLY cost him—I dunno, donating 30% of his income over the next five years to an animal charity (enough for him to feel it, but not so much that he would still not be fabulously wealthy)—then he would have something worthwhile to tell school children.
posted by: Kat on November 24, 2010 4:11pm
It is part of his probation and many places here in Philadelphia will not let him into their schools to glorify his past. Like, all you have to do is say sorry and you can hurt as many animals as you want and make millions. The animal welfare groups also refuse to let him around their animals. I am sure if he gave enough money they would have to say something nice, but he hasn’t offered, even when groups rescuing canine victims of dogfighting have asked. You don’t go from one minute joking about putting people’s neighborhood pets into rings to be killed to a changed person. And people’s characters just don’t change.
posted by: KB on November 26, 2010 10:37am
I think it’s intriguing that so many opinions exist about the extent to which Michael Vick should be repaying his debt to society. Let’s be clear: he served two years of prison time, went bankrupt after signing an over $100,000,000 contract, and received somewhat irreparable damage to his reputation. That’s not a minor thing. There’s no doubt that he paid a serious cost for his actions. I wonder how much of the disdain for Vick is actually an underlying distrust and disgust for societal realities that allow a person of his celebrity to resume the professional practices that enabled his celebrity in the first place. We could reduce this to an argument of the inherent inequalities that allow different outcomes for the same decisions depending on the perpetrators and the context. We could also argue about the inherent privilege we have in being able to even offer an opinion in an open forum, much less via computers with internet access. We could argue about whether or not the components of said computers are produced in fair-trade markets. There’s no end in sight when we politicize every single discussion.
The reality is Michael Vick is uniquely positioned to be influential, whether we like it or not. Perhaps we’d like that influence to be in the hands of less maligned persons. We’re welcome to our opinions on the use of that influence, but we’re ultimately in no position to decide how it plays out. As long as he plays the game of football at a high level, he’ll get attention. Period. That’s life. We all know what he did was morally and ethically wrong. How is perpetual rehashing of his actions going to do anything other than satisfy an incessant lust to dehumanize him? Seriously, the soapbox psychoanalysis of a guy NOT ONE OF US KNOWS is moot. We don’t really know his deal, and these sorts of outlets are really just our brief moment to do what Vick gets to do quite often and openly: speak his mind.
posted by: Matthew Sherman on November 26, 2010 12:33pm