Since we last met, the Philadelphia Eagles signed Vick to a one-year contract for $1.6 million with a second-year option worth $5.2 million and incentives.
Vick, for those who aren’t familiar with his story, served 18 months in federal prison for bankrolling a dog fighting ring. He was reinstated by the National Football League last month after being out of action since 2006.
In his first interview since being released from Leavenworth, Vick told CBS Sports’ James Brown on “60 Minutes” that he deserved to lose $135 million, which is what his Falcons contract would have paid. He expressed remorse for lying to Falcons owner, Arthur Blank who entrusted his club’s future to Vick by awarding him the largest-ever contract and defended him against criminal accusations. Vick said he further showed a lack of moral character for continuing to support the abuse of pitbulls via antagonistic training and fighting, which included fatally harming dogs that did not perform.
It comes as no surprise that Vick’s posse looks different today than it did three-years-ago. These days, childhood friends, many of whom participated in the illegal activities, have been replaced by attorneys, media coaches, former NFL coach turned mentor, Tony Dungy and Wayne Pacelle, head of the Humane Society of the United States.
The question is, however, do we believe Vick’s public comments that he is truly remorseful and will live life differently and help guide young people to do the right things, or are his words simply well crafted and rehearsed with media coaches?
The fact that I asked myself these questions came as a shock. After all, as a PR professional, I have often guided clients through talking points so that they may convey their intended messages. I wholeheartedly believe that people who want to change should be given second chances. However, there were still lingering questions after the “60 Minutes” interview and the Philadelphia Eagles press conference to introduce him two days prior. Was it me, or were others asking themselves the same question about a man who treated dogs, beloved pets in our society, so cruelly?
As I often do when I want to get a feel for public sentiment, I went to my social media outlets to gauge discussion. It turned out I didn’t have to ask many questions, as Twitter was atwitter about the CBS appearance.
The most powerful comment came from journalist, Mika Brzezinski who as @MorningMika (she co-hosts MSNBC’s Morning Joe with Joe Scarborough and works as an anchor for the network) wrote: “Note to pr people- don’t tell client to say they love animals…unless they really love animals. Michael Vick. Not buying PR team’s effort.”
And what about others like myself who work with people and their media deliveries?
John Sternal, a PR professional from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and is @SternalPR on Twitter wrote: “It’s not enough to say what we all want to hear. It’s almost more important in HOW we say what we need to hear.” Sternal added “It’s such a delicate balance esp. from our perspective. Ok 2 stay on message but also must come off more caring than that.”
Colleen Campbell, who works in Washington, D.C., as a PR specialist and is @PRSoapbox on Twitter, posted “Well thought out. Stuck to talking points. Said what the public needed to hear. Not sure I believe him. Time will tell.”
So, it wasn’t just me. Brown asked two questions I wanted answered as a sports fan and as a publicity specialist who works in sports: “Michael, is this you talking? Or the Vick team of attorneys, image-shapers and the like?” (Vick said it was him) and “Will you be committed to all that you said — that folks are hearing you say today?” (Vick said he was going to let his actions continue to speak louder than his words).
The bottom line is that we’re all judged ultimately on what we do, not what we say. This isn’t about man vs. animal or second chances or not. It’s about a man who served his court-sentenced time and says he wants to work with youth so that they don’t grow up with a mixed sense of right and wrong.
Vick’s image and status as a professional athlete depend on him being right.