(Photo: Reuters / Tim Shaffer)
Peyton Hillis will be posing for the cover of Madden 12 today in New York. The Cleveland Browns running back defeated Michael Vick 65.6 percent to 34.4 percent in the finals of the “Madden NFL 12” online voting contest on ESPN.com.
The contest started with 32 NFL players. Thirteen million votes later, fans selected Hillis as the winner. The announcement was made on ESPN’s SportsNation program Wednesday afternoon. Both Hillis and Vick were on hand for the announcement.
Even though Vick came up short, he won four rounds to get to the finals. Does that mean the public has forgiven him after he served 18 months in Leavenworth for bankrolling a dogfighting ring?
The jury is still out on that.
One online Virginia newspaper, The Daily Press, asked its readers: “What does it mean that Michael Vick could be on the cover of ‘Madden 12?’” As of this writing, the leading response was, “It means that fans have forgiven Vick for his crimes. They believe he has turned his life around and that he deserves a fresh start.”
But, if you spend any time reading articles about Vick or talking to fans about him, you’ll read and hear plenty of comments from people who are still angry about what he did.
When former Super Bowl winning coach Tony Dungy decided to reach out to Vick while he was in prison, Dungy was more concerned about Vick’s soul and the type of person he would become than what fans or the league thought about him.
“I am going out there to really talk about life. To talk about the Lord,” Dungy said on The Dan Patrick Show before their first meeting. “I know he has made a profession that he has accepted the Lord into his life. Talk to him about what he’s going to face. Most people are going to be against him. He’s got to understand that.”
After Vick was released from prison in 2009, he signed with the Philadelphia Eagles. At the introductory press conference, Dungy spoke with a group of reporters about a three-hour meeting he had with Vick while he was still in prison.
“I talked to him about where he wanted to go in the future,” Dungy said. “That’s one of the things my dad always used to say to me: ‘Don’t worry about where you are so much. What are you going to do to make it better?’ And that’s what I kept asking Mike: ‘Where are you going to go from here?’
“And the other thing I asked him was where the Lord was in all this. We talked about him growing up and having that side, that Christian background, but really getting to the NFL and feeling like he was his own guy. Somewhere in the course of all this, he realized that he had left that spiritual side. When he described that to me and the fact that he needed to get back closer to the Lord, that’s when I said: ‘I’m going to stay involved in this. I’m going to help you.’”
In an interview with Baptist Press at the 2010 Super Bowl Prayer Breakfast, Vick said he had been self-centered and forgotten about the Lord, but he was returning to his roots – which included becoming a Christian in high school in Virginia.
“I thought the transition would be easy, but it was a hard for me,” he said in the interview. “I did things I never thought I would do, like studying and working by myself. I stayed close to my faith, constant in prayer and close to Tony’s calls and texts.”
The regimented routine helped. In addition to being named the 2010 NFL AP Comeback Player of the Year, he is trying to make a difference in the lives of others. Recently, he joined Dungy and dozens of volunteers from Abe Brown Ministries to visit and speak with 1,000 current and soon-to-be-released inmates in Tampa, Fla.
“It was very humbling and at the same time, a bit overwhelming,” Vick is quoted as saying in an ESPN article. “You really didn’t know what to expect. Hopefully I can be an example to somebody. The thing that I was trying to get across is that we all can be instruments of change. That’s something that I’ve been proactive about since I stepped out of prison and I’m enjoying every minute of it.”
It’s hard to say whether Vick being a finalist in the Madden 12 fan vote was any indication about whether the public believes Vick is a changed man or not, but his willingness to engage in ministry and stay connected to Coach Dungy is a positive sign.