It has been a long road to redemption for NFL quarterback Michael Vick, who was at the top of his game before pleading guilty in 2007 for his role in a dogfighting ring — a sentence that led to 19 months in prison. Out with a new autobiography called “Michael Vick: Finally Free,” the football star and Humane Society spokesperson has been working to rebuild his image both on and off the field.
Vick told TODAY’s Matt Lauer Tuesday that he wrote the autobiography not only for his fans, but also to set the story straight. "I just get so many questions asked, so many people have their own opinions about what should've happened, the perception of the situation, whether or not they know about the origin of what I was into,” he said. “They get it wrong, and I want to help them get it right."
His first dogfight
Vick was exposed to dogfighting at an early age. In “Finally Free” he wrote of the first time he saw it, at age 8 in the Virginia housing project where he grew up.
He said that he and a friend saw other kids surrounding a grassy area where they usually played football. “But instead of a football game, about eight pit bull terriers were gathered ... we saw guys putting their dogs' faces right in front of one another. The dogs would grab and fight. I remember two of them were fighting when a third, smaller dog jumped on the back of one of the larger dogs to make it two-on-one.” He wrote that while it seemed cruel, he was fascinated. “It's something I wish had never, ever happened," he said.
That day led to years of involvement in illegal dogfighting rings, even though Vick said he knew it could lead to trouble. He told Lauer: “I always thought about it. It was always in the back of my mind. I was very naive to the consequences, and that's what I don't want to happen to young kids today ... I became an advocate to try and bring awareness to dogfighting to help young kids realize that that's not what is important and it’s not the path that they should take."
His son’s reaction
Though Vick’s dogfighting conviction led to a crisis in his career and the loss of his freedom, he said the thing that he will never forget is his son's emotional reaction to the news that his father might go to prison.
“It was tough. I really couldn't explain it,” he said. “The only thing I could do at the time was console him. There was no explanation. It was too far-fetched for his brain to understand what I had done. The only thing he knew was that I was going to jail and he knew the concept of that. It was a situation money couldn’t get me out of."
Vick was sentenced to 23 months in jail and suspended indefinitely from the league. He was released from prison in 2009 and was then reinstated to the league and signed by the Philadelphia Eagles, where he played as a backup quarterback. He was promoted to Eagles starting QB in 2010, and in 2011 signed a new contract for $100 million dollars.
Some have charged that Vick’s book and his advocate work with the Humane Society is a public relations campaign by someone who is in desperate need of public support. On TODAY he shrugged off the allegations, saying: "Well, you know I'm just trying to do what I think is not only going to help myself but help the masses of people, and I think that's what's important ... the only thing I can do is try to help the people that I think may need helping … that's why I'm part of the Humane Society.”
The Society, once a vocal critic of Vick, released a statement saying that his story “is the strongest possible example of why dogfighting is a dead end. Just as former drug addicts are able to reach people struggling with addiction, former dogfighters are some of the most effective voices against this crime.”
Vick has campaigned with the Humane Society in outreach programs for at-risk youth. He said that through his work he is able to “reach and teach,” which means the most to him.
Still, he admits that the work isn’t done yet. He said, “I still feel like I have more to prove each and every day, and I think each person should feel like that when you wake up in the morning. You always have something to prove … you should always be striving to do better, and be better than you were the day before.”