Some athletes are very good in their sports, establish an incredible legacy off the field, enter the Hall of Fame for that sport and are completely unrecognizable to 60% of the U.S. population. The main reason being that unless you are a Hockey Fan, or were a major football and baseball fan in the 1990s, you probably couldn’t recognize Wayne Gretzky or Bo Jackson if you saw them at your local grocery store. Then you have the athletes like Jose Canseco, now Lance Armstrong and yes now Michael Vick. Athletes whose stories transcended the sports field (for good or for ill) and made it into popular consciousness. In the case of Vick, his dog-fighting-to-prison-to-NFL again story had all of the elements of an American redemption story, violence, race, sex, and sports. But on Sunday that story may end. On Sunday at 1:00 we may see the final chapter of the Michael Vick saga and it will not be pretty either way the story ends.
Michael Vick is much bigger than sports, he has become, over the course of the last 7 years or so a touchtone for every racial, financial and cultural discussion regarding the National Football League. When you think about memes in sports, that move from the sports bars on Sunday to the metro bus ride to talking to your friends and your Mom on a Sunday night, which one doesn’t he hit?
– The “Running” vs. “Pocket” highly racialized quarterback controversy, where Vick’s physical skills were lauded and his mental capacity for the sport diminished
– The “Spoiled Athlete” meme, where Vick being scoring essentially the biggest contract in NFL history when he was with the Falcons only to blow it all for off the field behavior
– The Dog Fighting Scandal – Nuff Said’
– The Good vs. Bad Black story – When Vick was picked up by the Philadelphia Eagles to back up Donovan McNabb he entered one of the most racially polarized sports cities in America. Where the ‘authenticity’ of the city’s premiere QB Donovan McNabb was constantly questioned with ex-felons like Vick used as an example of someone with more ‘street cred’
The list goes on and on. I don’t think there is one athlete in the NFL who has had more ink spilled on him in the last 7 years that isn’t named Terrell Owens. And while everyone has their opinion on whether or not Michael Vick has redeemed himself from Dog-Fighting, or whether he is truly sorry, or whether he is better than Donovan McNabb, one thing remains abundantly clear: His performance on the field has not lived up to his first year hype. After ripping the Eagles starting QB job out of the hands of perpetual back-up Kevin Kolb in 2010 Michael Vick looked every bit like the superstar that many wanted him to be during his lack-luster days back in Atlanta. He was rewarded with a huge contract, and then he proceeded to make the entire team and organization look like fools. Not for his off the field conduct, which has been exemplary (given than most NFL players aren’t in trouble with the law anyway), but his on the field performance has been terrible. He was constantly hurt in the 2011-2012 season which cost the Eagles a pretty clear path to the playoffs. This year he’s become a turnover machine, and has somehow reduced one of the most talented rosters in the league to next to last place in scoring average. And now the biggest challenge remains.
The entire Philadelphia Eagles organization hangs on the precipice of the most dreaded word in professional football: “Re-building”. In football terms that means your team is bad, and you’re about to face anywhere from 5 to 10 years of desperately trying to find a coach, or a quarterback or both that will return your team to relevance. Some teams can delay this, the Titans went from Steve McNair to Vince Young who managed to keep the team afloat for a few years. But usually you end up like the Miami Dolphins, or the Denver Broncos or the Dallas Cowboys, all franchises that spent almost a decade trying to find another signal caller when their former franchise guy retired or lost his game. The team is now 3-3, and on Sunday will face the 6-0 Atlanta Falcons, Michael Vick’s old team in a game that will more or less define the future. If the Eagles lose, their playoff chances look pretty dim with half the season gone. This will likely be the end of Coach Andy Reid, the longest tenured coach in the NFL. Not during the season mind you, but with 100 million invested in Vick and mediocre seasons since McNabb left Reid will likely see his last year on the Eagle’s sideline. If the Eagles lose, Michael Vick becomes just another example of the over protected black athlete who had god given talents but never had the work ethic. If Vick loses to his former team, a game that he should be up for more than ANY other, everyone will have been ‘right’ about him.
Of course the reverse is true as well. The Falcons are 6-0, and are ripe for a loss since going undefeated is challenging in today’s NFL. A Vick victory may give his career and the Eagles a new chapter. It may be the redemption story that springs him into another level, from thug to hero, to star to comeback-kid. But we won’t know that until tomorrow at 4:15 p.m. Either way, one of the longest running cultural and racial stories in the NFL will have a new chapter, we’ll have to see if that’s the end of the story, or a cliff-hanger to an all new series.
This article originally appeared online at Politic365.com.