By Donald Hunt Eagles, Special to NNPA from the Philadelphia Tribune –
The students at Juniata Park Academy were patiently waiting in the school auditorium for a special guest to arrive. The special guest was Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick.
This was a big week for Vick and the Eagles (9-4). They had a big game on the road against the Dallas Cowboys (5-8) Sunday night on national television. It’s also Tuesday, which happens to be a day off for all NFL players.
But on this day, Vick is talking to the students about the consequences of getting involved in dogfighting. Vick spent 18 months in prison for his role in a dogfighting operation.
Vick has worked with the Humane Society in regards to speaking to youngsters in a number of schools. He has worked hard in trying to steer kids away from animal cruelty. He’s been getting the message out all over the country.
Vick doesn’t make any excuses for what he did. He clearly stands in a wrong person’s place. He’s been open and honest about his involvement with dogfighting and why it’s not the right thing to do. The students listen closely to him. Rebecca Glenn-Dinwoodie, a coordinator with the Humane Society of the United States, talks about Vick’s commitment to help end dogfighting in the community.
“His story is the strongest possible example of how dogfighting is a dead end,” Glenn-Dinwoodie said. “He comes off to these kids very honest. They listen to him and spread the message to the community. That’s powerful. He has spoken inside and outside of Philadelphia.
“Last week, he spoke to two different schools in (New Haven) Connecticut in regards to ending dogfighting. He’s been getting the word out. He’s definitely a busy guy. He takes time to get this message to the kids who need it who may not listen to other figures.”
Vick’s message is powerful. His story is even bigger.
In 2007, he went to prison where he spent nearly two years behind bars. In 2009, he was released from prison and Roger Goodell, NFL commissioner, conditionally reinstated him. The Eagles were the only team that showed interest in him. Vick was a three-time Pro Bowler with the Atlanta Falcons before his misfortunes. He hadn’t played a game since 2006.
The Eagles signed him prior to the start of last season, when they had Pro Bowl quarterback Donovan McNabb and backup Kevin Kolb. He saw limited playing time in his first season with the Eagles.
In the offseason, the Eagles traded McNabb to the Washington Redskins. Vick became the backup to Kolb who was anointed the starter. But, Kolb got hurt in the season opener against the Green Bay Packers. Vick stepped in and played lights out. He took over as the starter.
Moreover, it was announced that Vick, with 729,838 votes, leads all NFL all-stars in balloting for the 2011 Pro Bowl. He leads Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning (691,146), New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (623,074), Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson (591,598), and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (547,340) round out the top five in voting.
Vick knows what he’s doing on and off the field means a lot to the students. He realizes how critical it is to reach the kids who could very easily travel down the wrong path in life.
“It’s important to come out and talk to the kids and share some of the experiences,” Vick said. “I try to help them at all cost to prevent from going down the road that you went down. I think that’s very important. I just want to continue to spread that message. I want to continue to assist the Humane Society in putting a stop to dogfighting.”
The other part of Vick’s message is for people in general. He isn’t the first athlete to serve time in prison and come out to turn his life around. Bernard Hopkins is a good example of that. Hopkins, a former world light heavyweight and middleweight champion and future hall of famer, spent 56 months in Graterford State Penitentiary. He grew up in North Philly. He started boxing while he was in prison.
Like Vick, Hopkins needed a second chance. He got one. Hopkins, 45, is one of Philadelphia’s best known professional athletes. Graterford has a mural of Hopkins in his honor because of his perseverance and success. Hopkins is not just a great fighter, but also a good humanitarian. A year ago, he arranged to fight Enrique Ornelas at Temple’s Liacouras Center for all his family and friends from North Philadelphia.
Vick attended that fight and recognizes what Hopkins has done with his life.
“I draw inspiration from a lot of people,” Vick said. “There’s always going to be adversity. There’s always going to be ups and downs. It’s all about how you battle back from it. Bernard has a great story. He put in a lot of hard work. He battled back from what he went through. And, that’s what it’s all about.”
Vick has achieved a lot of success throughout his career. He was a terrific football player at Warwick High School in Newport News, Virginia. He had a great college career at Virginia Tech. His first appearance as a football player in Philadelphia was 1999 when Virginia Tech faced Temple at old Veterans Stadium. Vick led the Hokies to an incredible 62-7 victory over the Owls that day.
He was a freshman quarterback at the time. He ran for a season-high 134 yards and two rushing touchdowns while passing for two TDs. He put on a big time performance. He also led Virginia Tech to the national championship game before losing to Florida State.
In 2001, he became the first African-American quarterback to be taken No. 1 overall in the NFL draft. With three Pro Bowls in 2002, 2004 and 2005, he had built a great resume. This included an appearance in the NFC championship game against Eagles. In 2004, the Eagles defeated the Falcons while making its first Super Bowl appearance in 24 years. The fans have been quite familiar with Vick’s exploits as a player.
In looking back on what he’s accomplished during the years, he knows how fortunate he is to have another chance to not only play football, but also turn his life to community service. He credits his fiancée, Kijafa Frink from Philly, a graduate of Bodine High School and Hampton University, for providing him with plenty of support through the rough times.
“She’s an inspiration to me as well,” Vick said. “I don’t know where I would be especially during my 18-month prison sentence. You don’t really appreciate certain people until you really needed them or when you’re backed into a corner. That was the situation I was in and she was there for me. I will never forget that.”
Some people will never forget Vick’s quarterback performance on Monday night against the Washington Redskins. He led the Eagles to touchdowns on their first five possessions and posted franchise records for points scored in the first quarter (28) and first half (45) and in total net yards (592).
Vick had a career-high 150.7 passer rating and becoming the first player in NFL history to pass for 300 yards, rush for 50 yards, throw four TDs and rush for two TDs in a single game. As a result, Vick’s jersey is on display in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
That deserves high praise along with his work in the community.