Michael Vick has become a bit of a weary topic for Atlantans. For years, we’ve been debating his football career, his dogfighting charges, the circus surrounding both and his jail sentence. Should he be forgiven? Is he truly contrite? Can he become even a shadow of the player he was when he first started with the Falcons?
After a low-key year as a third-string quarterback with the Philadelphia Eagles, he is still working to build back his reputation and his tattered career. Part of that process is BET’s “The Michael Vick Project,” a ten-part docu-reality show which debuts at 10 p.m Tuesday.
I received an advance copy of the first 30 minutes this past Saturday.
“From darkness, he saw the light,” the narrator intones in the beginning. “Blessed with a second chance, he must once again rise above to heal his family, his community, his legacy.”
“I’m Michael Vick,” he says. “My fall from grace was tragic. But it was all my fault. And I’m on a mission to get it all back. Not the money and fame but to restore my family’s good name.”
Vick told the New York Times recently that he doesn’t expect people who already hate him to change their mind or even bother to watch the show. But he hopes to be a positive example to kids who see him as a person who is trying to redeem himself.
He opens the first episode talking about how rough it was to grow up in the rough part of Newport News, Va. He flew to his childhood home. He recounts his young life and how he got into football in a few broad strokes. We see video of him as a child and at Virginia Tech, where he shone. “College football was so easy,” he said. “I needed more challenge.” So he quickly entered the NFL.
“Draft day was the greatest day of my life,” Vick said. He was the first black quartertback to be named first in the draft.
Once with the Falcons, he readily admits he began living a “double life.” Indeed, he separated his football life from his childhood love for dogfighting. He said he started watching dogfighting at age 7. His brother Marcus confirmed it. “We never knew there was nothing wrong with it,” his brother said.
Vick showed where he did dogfighting as a child. ”I really took to it. I was intrigued by it. I gravitated to it,” he said.
“He was living two sides,” his brother Marcus said. “At the time off the field, he had a dark side to him.”
He started “Bad Newz Kennels” in Surry County, Va., where he purchased 15 acres for $34,000. “I figured I had the money and had the land,” he said. “We could do it discreet.” He built a house on the property. “It was for all the guys I was around,” mostly childhood friends, he said.
Vick would fly home from Atlanta every Tuesday to check on his dogs and fight the dogs. By not telling his football colleagues or bosses about it, clearly he knew what he was doing was wrong. But he did it anyway.
In 2004, he signed a ten-year deal with the Falcons and was awash in money. He said he enjoyed the lifestyle and so did his family. (Interestingly, the NFL and the Falcons did not clear footage so there is no video of him playing professional football, including the game in December when he scored a touchdown at the Georgia Dome as an Eagle. ESPN did clear footage of news reports, though.)
At the same time, his dogfighting operation was growing by leaps and bounds, from 20 to 68 dogs. “It was spiralling out of control,” he said of his dogfighting circa 2004-05. His mom and brother urged him to stop. But he ignored their pleas.
“The money changed him at that point,” Marcus said.
“Money made it difficult to listen to people,” Vick acknowledged. “At the end of the day, it was all about me.”
A cousin was stopped with marijuana and that led to the authorities finding out about the dogfighting. “My whole world came crashing down,” he said.
Vick thought at first he could get out of the situation by paying off the right attorneys. He denied it to the media for months, effectively admitting now that he lied. “I didn’t have the courage to say it,” he said. “I just wanted it to go away.” But too many people, he soon realized, were willing to testify against him. His contract with Nike was nixed. He had a clause in his Falcons contract that forced him to give back millions. His back was against the wall.
He eventually pled guilty. “I hurt so many animals. I did things that were inhumane and barbaric,” he said. (The show, at least episode one, does not describe what he actually did though we know he killed and tortured dogs who did not perform.)
James DuBose, the executive producer (BET shows “Keyshia Cole,” “Frankie & Neffe,” “Monica: Still Standing” and “Tiny & Toya”) said “we didn’t softball it at all. The whole point we wanted to tell the raw, real story.”
DuBose was approached by Vick’s people (including Brian Sher, who produced MTV’s show “T.I.: Road to Redemption”) in July. DuBose said he wanted to make sure Vick was truly sorry for what he did and was doing this show for the right reasons. He felt that was the case and moved forward. “We connected,” he said.
Vick had already filmed footage of himself in prison and the aftermath, some of which DuBose used. And surprisingly, DuBose said this was the easiest production he’s had so far. “People often don’t realize how invasive production can be,” he said. “He got it and was open to it.”
DuBose said they shot from August until January. “This may sound strange but he really loves animals,” DuBose said. “I want to be clear: what he did was horrendous and awful. I’m simply saying he made a mistake. He’s going about it the right way. He’s not building back Michael Vick the football player but Michael Vick the man.”
He said there are no plans to do more than one series. DuBose is now busy finishing up “Tiny & Toya,” back for season two on BET in April. “Frankie & Neffe,” he said, is up in the air. Ditto with “Monica: Still Standing.”