- (Photo: AP Images / Matt Rourke)
When former Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy was asked to be a full-time mentor to disgraced football star Michael Vick, he wanted to know where it was that Vick wanted to go in the future and “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,” Dungy recalled Friday of their meeting in May.
“When he kind of 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,’” the outspoken man of faith added.
After making that commitment, Dungy did what he has been doing for many of the hours he’s spent each day since retiring from the NFL in January – he helped an inmate reshape his life.
Furthermore, Dungy vouched for Vick after the former Atlanta Falcons quarterback was reinstated into the NFL last month, talking to as many as a dozen teams that were interested in Vick.
Some even say that Vick’s reinstatement could not have happened without Dungy vouching for him, given the gross nature of the crimes he committed.
According to a study conducted last month by HCD Research, the majority of Americans (67 percent) feel Vick did not receive a severe enough punishment after being identified as "the key figure" of an extensive unlawful interstate dogfighting ring in 2007.
And only 33 percent say Vick should be allowed to play in the NFL after he was released from prison on May 21.
When it was announced that the Philadelphia Eagles were going to pick up Vick, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) declared that the organization “and millions of decent football fans around the world are disappointed that the Philadelphia Eagles have chosen to sign a man who hanged dogs from trees, electrocuted them with jumper cables, held them underwater until they drowned in his swimming pool and even threw his own family dogs into the fighting pit to be torn to shreds while he laughed."
“At this point, all Eagles fans can do is cross their fingers and hope that they won't ever have to explain to their sons and daughters what a ‘rape rack’ is and why their favorite player was using one, as Falcons fans once had to,” added the group, which insists that the authenticity of Vick’s change of heart cannot be verified until he agrees to submit to a brain scan and psychological evaluation.
Dungy, however, who his active in a prison ministry, has vouched for Vick's character and told the Eagles that he believes Vick will be a "good teammate, a good person in the locker room, in the community."
"He is going to have a lot of people that do not think he should be playing. He's got to prove them wrong by his actions - off the field first, and then on the field," Dungy told CNN.
Despite public opinion being against him, Vick has received backing from a number of key individual, including Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, who said Vick delivered “a powerful message against animal cruelty” at events in Atlanta and Chicago.
"Michael Vick admits that what he did to dogs was cruel and barbaric, but now that he has served his time, he wants to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem,” Pacelle said.
According Pacelle, Vick has agreed to make two visits a month to cities to speak against dogfighting as an ambassador in the society's fight against street dogfighting. Vick has also pledged to make a long-term commitment to participate in the society’s community-based outreach programs to steer inner-city youth away from dogfighting.
"Michael Vick resonates with young people," said Dungy.
"If he says be careful of who you get involved with, that will mean more than anything I could say,” he added, despite having been the first black NFL coach to win a Super Bowl and being noted as one of the most respected figures in the league.
During Friday’s news conference, Eagles owner and animal lover Jeffrey Lurie said his own measurement of Vick will not be on the yardage he picks up as a back up to starting quarterback Donovan McNabb, but will “100 percent” be on whether he is able to “create social change in this horrendous area of animal cruelty.”
“Whether he is successful with us on the field – sure, I hope he is,” Lurie stated. “But his legend and whether we are giving him a second chance will be successful if he can diminish the level of animal cruelty. That's it. If he is not proactive, he won't be on the team because that's part of the agreement."
Dungy similarly noted how the impact Vick makes off the field will hold greater weight in society than what he will do on the field.
“It's important to him (Vick) that other young men don't make the mistakes he made. If this turns out the way I think it will and hope it will, I'll feel better about that than just winning ballgames," the former coach stated.
But Dungy also made clear that the Eagles didn't sign Vick "as a charity measure."
"Mike's gonna help their team and be a weapon for them. But they also stepped out to give a man a second chance," Dungy said.
During the news conference, Vick credited Dungy for his turnaround, saying that his mentoring "helped redefine me as an individual."
Vick also expressed gratitude to Dungy for "giving me the proper advice and having an open dialogue with me at all times."
"Our country is a country of second chances," he added.