Sending The Wrong Message, Again

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - December 30, 2009
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Michael Vick: undeserving of ‘courage’ award

Before anyone gets all crazy with accusations of piling on, this is not a criticism of Michael Vick. The Philadelphia quarterback has done what was asked: He’s stayed out of trouble and has had a growing and positive impact on his team. The target here is the Eagles and a sporting culture that excuses nearly all behavior in the name of athletic conquest.

On Dec. 23, the Eagles announced Vick was the team’s recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award. The award, named for the former Colts trainer who devoted time and resources to helping underprivileged and abused children, is given to a member of each team who, according to the foundation’s Web site, “exemplify commitment to the principles of sports-manship and courage.”

Vick joins other recipients such as former Jacksonville offensive tackle Richard Collier, who has been confined to a wheel-chair since being shot while sitting in a vehicle outside a friend’s home. Most of the other winners were rewarded for having fought through serious injuries while maintaining their commitment to charitable endeavors. Putting Vick in such company insults the spirit of the award, and it downgrades the accomplishments of those who have done more than simply stay out of prison.

Vick said he was unanimously selected by his teammates - hardly a surprise. This is just another example of the disconnect between athletics and anything resembling the real world in which most of us are forced to live. In the eyes of his teammates, Vick made a mistake, nothing more.

In fact, after the incarceration and all criticism he has faced in forums big and small, he is nearly a victim. The once-seemingly remorseful quarterback has embraced the woe-isme theme in a major way.

“I’ve overcome a lot, more than probably one single individual can handle or bear,” said Vick in an article. “You ask certain people to walk through my shoes, they probably couldn’t do it, probably 95 percent of the people in this world because nobody had to endure what I’ve been through, situations I’ve been put in, situations I put myself in and decisions I have made, whether they have been good or bad.”

Just like his unapologetic apology about his involvement in dogfighting, Vick barely acknowledges any real responsibility for his own actions. True, he’s been through a lot, and he’s right that a large part of the population would find similar challenges difficult. But unlike his counterparts who were innocent victims of bad luck and medical mishaps, Vick’s problems were of his own creation.

The Eagles took a public-relations gamble signing the former Falcons quarterback, and the organization did itself no favor in allowing the vote to occur as it did. Strangely enough, the team knows this. Where other organizations have touted the accomplishments of their team’s representative, Vick’s announcement on the Eagles’ home page amounts to a one-paragraph article posted on its blog site. The actual text boasts four other first line indents that deal almost entirely with past winners and information about the award. The team, very quietly, could have removed his name from consideration, telling Vick and his teammates that while the organization is fully behind him, that prudence demands a lower profile for the popular teammate.

PETA, not the most clear-thinking of animal-rights organizations, has issued a correct criticism of the Eagles, saying the team did a disservice to the award by holding up Vick as a model of sportsman-ship.

Head coach Andy Reid congratulated Vick for turning his life around and becoming a better person - both of which may be true.

Only time will tell. Since his release he has carried himself well and has repaid the trust the team has put in him.

But for a league as image conscious as the NFL, any bad publicity, real or imagined, is of major concern. Just ask the creators of Playmakers.

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