In 2001, the Atlanta Falcons made history by selecting Michael Vick as the number one overall pick in the NFL draft. The first African American quarterback to do so. He was the most electrifying player the league had ever seen. In his first five seasons, Vick set numerous records, including the most rushing yards by a quarterback in a single season (1,039 in 2006), highest average per carry in a single season (8.45 in 2006), 100-yard career rushing games by a quarterback (eight), best two-game rushing total (225 in 2004) and rushing yards in a single game (173 in 2002).
To the fans in Atlanta, Vick was a savior. He was now the face of their franchise and was poised to take them to the Super Bowl for the first time in the team’s history.
After Vick’s indictment, his family, friends, teammates, sponsors, the NFL and the city of Atlanta were under fire for “supporting” a soon-to-be felon. All of these entities said exactly what the public wanted to hear (good PR).
“We are disappointed that Michael Vick has put himself in a position where a federal grand jury has returned an indictment against him,” the NFL said in a written statement. “We will continue to closely monitor developments in this case, and to cooperate with law enforcement authorities. The activities alleged are cruel, degrading and illegal. Michael Vick’s guilt has not yet been proven, and we believe that all concerned should allow the legal process to determine the facts.”
Eventually the lies caught up to Vick and the verdict was in. The most electrifying athlete in sports will be making 12 cents an hour for the next 23 months, in a federal prison, performing manual labor tasks.
Now it is time for Vick to start cleaning up his mess. Arguably the most daunting public relations task there is; Rebuilding relationships. Once a player breaks the trust he or she has established with the public, it is nearly impossible to regain it, but if Vick ever wants to play football again, he’s going to have to try.
Vick has now served 19 of the 23 months he was sentenced, and will be allowed to serve the last two months of his sentence under home confinement.
When Vick is released in July, will any teams be interested in signing him? here is what espn.com’s, Michael Smith, has to say.
If you were the owner of an NFL team, would you want Vick on your team? Sure, he is a premier athlete (assuming he has stayed in “football” shape while in prison), and he could probably help your team win a few games, but is it worth the PR nightmare that would surely follow?
Many people are going to argue that Vick has paid his debt to society and that he deserves a second chance. Others think that what he did is inexcusable and he should not be allowed to play in the NFL ever again.
So the question is, what is a better PR move for your organization? Do you let Vick prove he has changed, give him a second chance and see what happens? Or do you not want your organization linked to a convicted felon?
These are the questions that team owners are going to have to answer if/when NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, reinstates Michael Vick into the league, and you can be assured that the decision the owners make (whether for or against Vick) will be met by an uproar from the media, niche organizations and fans.