I was encouraged to hear that Michael Vick, in advance of his reality show that debuts Tuesday on BET , is saying he led “a double life,” and I use the word “encouraged” advisedly. Because you don’t know how many times I’ve asked myself and asked people who worked inside the building at 4400 Falcon Parkway if I/they had any hint — any hint — of what was to come.
And I did not. Which might make me the world’s worst reporter, except that I’ve not yet found anyone within the compound who saw it coming, either.
I know, I know. People on the outside will harrumph and say they knew it all along because he wore his hair in corn rows and dressed in a manner different from, say, Peyton Manning. But I grew up in the ’60s and have had some fairly extravagant hairdos myself, and I attended my high school graduation wearing platform shoes with four-inch heels. Me, I stopped judging on appearances long ago.
And even if you believed Vick mightn’t have been a model citizen, you knew this … how? Before the Ron Mexico civil action was filed in 2005, there wasn’t a hint of misdoings, and he’d been a Falcon since April 2001. In hindsight, the weird part wasn’t that we “knew all about” the most famous person in Atlanta but that we knew, as in really knowing, hardly anything.
Even after a relatively quiet NFL season, Vick is back in the news. Scott MacFarlane of WSB recently gained access to documents stemming from the Federal investigation into dogfighting. The highlights: That Vick, according to informants, shot some dogs and hit others with a shovel, and got an “adrenaline high” from the brutality.
Eight days ago the Dallas Morning News reported that David Jacobs, a steroids dealer who has since killed himself and his girlfriend, told the paper he supplied Vick when the quarterback was still a Falcon. (Vick has denied to federal investigators he used performance-enhancing drugs.)
The Falcons made Michael Vick the NFL’s highest-paid player by signing him to a new contract on Dec. 23, 2004. Not just a franchise player, he was The Franchise. And surely that’s the best evidence they didn’t have an inkling that another Vick — the part hidden on a back road in Virginia — existed. Maybe their screening processes weren’t airtight, but maybe Vick was just an expert at living two lives.
Working on a profile, I spent a little time with Vick in 2002. I remember asking what teammates he considered close friends. He mentioned reserve wide receiver Trevor Gaylor, and Matt Winkeljohn, then the AJC’s Falcons writer, suggested Quentin McCord, another sub. I was a bit surprised the team leader didn’t have more of a locker-room constituency, but I’d be lying if I said I thought much about it.
I knew he had friends from Virginia living at his house in Sugarloaf — he admitted as much — but it wasn’t as if they had the run of Flowery Branch. After Vick was sentenced, a researcher for “60 Minutes” asked me if his Virginia associates had been around all the time, and I told him the truth: I never once saw them.
Even after the various “incidents” — Ron Mexico, the bird-flip, the trick water bottle — I stuck to my default mode: That Vick was a decent guy. Then he was indicted, and reading that indictment on July 17, 2007, was the equivalent of staring into a funhouse mirror. Was that guy capable of this? Reading the same document in a plane returning from Africa, Arthur Blank had the same response: “This was not the Michael Vick I knew.”
That’s why I’m intrigued by “The Michael Vick Project”, and what it might reveal. I thought I knew him. Turns out I only knew what I was allowed to see. I’m intrigued to see how he kept his lives compartmentalized. I’m intrigued, as the spies in John le Carre’s fictional Circus would say, by the tradecraft.