On December 10, 2007, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick was sentenced to 23 months in prison for running a “cruel and inhumane” dogfighting ring. He was also suspended by the NFL and lost all of his endorsement deals from various sponsors. In his plea agreement, Vick admitted to bankrolling the whole dogfighting operation and in helping to kill dogs that had underperformed in the fights by electrocution, drowning, hanging, and other means. The judge who sentenced Vick had much less sympathy for him because he had initially denied any involvement in the operation until his accomplices agreed to cooperate with the government and testify against Vick. After Vick pleaded guilty, however, he said “I take full responsibility for my actions” and “I totally ask for forgiveness and understanding as I move forward to bettering Michael Vick the person, not the football player.”
Transcript of Michael Vick’s 60 Minutes Interview:
MICHAEL VICK: The first day I walked into prison, and he slammed that door, I knew, you know, the magnitude of the decisions that I made, and the poor judgment, and what I, you know, allowed to happen to the animals. And, you know, it’s no way of, you know, explaining, you know, the hurt and the guilt that I felt. And that was the reason I cried so many nights. And that put it all into perspective.
JAMES BROWN: You cried a number of nights.
MICHAEL VICK: Yeah.
JAMES BROWN: About?
MICHAEL VICK: What I did, you know, being away from my family, letting so many people down. I let myself down, you know, not being out on the football field, being in a prison bed, in a prison bunk, writing letters home, you know. That wasn’t my life. That wasn’t the way that things was supposed to be. And all because of the so-called culture that I thought was right — that I thought it was cool. And I thought it was, you know, it was fun, and it was exciting at the time. It all led to me laying in a prison bunk by myself with no one to talk to but myself.
JAMES BROWN: Who do you blame for all of this?
MICHAEL VICK: I blame me.
CBS Voiceover: Michael Vick was a human highlight reel, with a powerful arm, blazing speed, and an uncanny ability to elude tacklers. He’s the only quarterback in NFL history to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season though he was injured a lot, and never lived up to the high expectations in Atlanta.
Very few people knew what was happening in his life off the field. When police raided a farm he owned in rural Virginia in 2007, they uncovered an interstate dog-fighting operation called “Bad Newz Kennels.” They removed 66 dogs and exhumed the bodies of eight more. They also found dog fighting paraphernalia and a pit where fights were held.
The dogs that were saved, raised and trained to be vicious fighters, are now being rehabilitated in hopes of being adopted…all at the expense of Vick, who was ordered by a judge to pay nearly a million dollars for the effort.
JAMES BROWN: And the operation, Michael, that you pleaded guilty to bankrolling, to being a part of, engaged in barbarous treatment of the animals — beating them, shooting them, electrocuting them, drowning them. Horrific things, Michael.
MICHAEL VICK: It’s wrong, man. I don’t know how many times I gotta tell, I gotta say it. I mean, it was wrong. I feel, you know, I feel, you know, tremendous hurt behind what happened. And, you know, I should’ve took the initiative to stop it all. You know, and I didn’t. And I feel so bad about that now. And I know, you know, that I didn’t I didn’t step up. I wasn’t a leader.
JAMES BROWN: In any way, for those who may say it showed a lack of moral character because you didn’t stop it, you agree or disagree?
MICHAEL VICK: I agree.
VO: For six years, Vick ran Bad Newz Kennels with his childhood friends, breeding, buying, selling and fighting pit bulls.
JAMES BROWN: Was there an adrenaline rush? Was it the sense of competition? What was it that gripped you about what you engaged in with the dog fighting?
MICHAEL VICK: Regardless of what it was … don’t even matter.
JAMES BROWN: Do you know what it was?
MICHAEL VICK: I know why. You know, I know why. And regardless of what it was — and why I was driven, you know, by what– you know what was going on, you know — whether it was because of the competition or — you know, whatever it may have been, it was wrong.
JAMES BROWN: Were any of those reasons, though? The competition? The adrenaline?
MICHAEL VICK: Yeah.
JAMES BROWN: Do you understand why people are outraged?
MICHAEL VICK: I understand why. And I’m going to say it again. Sickens me to my stomach. And it was, you know, the same thing that I’m feeling right now.
JAMES BROWN: And the feeling you’re feeling right now is?
MICHAEL VICK: Disgust. Pure disgust.
JAMES BROWN: When did you arrive at that feeling of disgust, Michael? When did the light go on?
MICHAEL VICK: When I was in prison. When I was in prison. I was disgusted, you know, because of what I let happen to those animals. I could’ve put a stop to it. I could’ve walked away from it. I could’ve shut the whole operation down.
JAMES BROWN: But you didn’t. Why not?
MICHAEL VICK: But I didn’t.
JAMES BROWN: What was keeping you going?
MICHAEL VICK: Not being able to say, or tell, you know, certain people around me that, “Look, we can’t do this anymore. I’m concerned about my career. I’m concerned about my family.”
JAMES BROWN: So for the cynics who will say, “You know what? I don’t know. Michael Vick might be more concerned about the fact that his career was hurt than dogs were hurt.”
MICHAEL VICK: I don’t– I mean, football don’t even matter. You know, I mean, that’s-
JAMES BROWN: Losing a $135 million contract — doesn’t matter —
MICHAEL VICK: It don’t matter. It don’t matter. I deserve to lose that because of what I was doing.
JAMES BROWN: You deserve to lose it?
MICHAEL VICK: Yeah, I deserve to lose it. I deserve to lose the $130 million. Why would a guy who was making a $130 million and, you know, on the flip side, you know, killing dogs or doing the wrong things, why would– you know, he don’t — he don’t deserve it.
VO: We met Michael Vick in Virginia. He wasn’t allowed to cross state lines without permission from his probation officer. He was accompanied by two men, former NFL Tony Dungy, who has been asked by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to mentor Vick… and someone you might never expect, Wayne Pacelle, president of The Humane Society of the United States.
JAMES BROWN: Why would you put your reputation on the line in working with Michael Vick?
TONY DUNGY: I’ve visited a lot of prisons. That’s something that I do. And I know that there are a lot of young men — especially African-American young men, who need a chance, who made a mistake, who did something wrong, who had a problem — but are looking to bounce back. That’s what I’ve always been concerned about. Not just for Michael Vick. But for hundreds of guys that I’ve talked to.
VO: Pacelle’s relationship with Vick is even more unlikely. His organization provided evidence that helped put Vick in prison. While Pacelle says he remains skeptical, he nevertheless enlisted Vick as an anti-dog-fighting ambassador.
WAYNE PACELLE: If we just punish Mike indefinitely and don’t pivot to this problem in the communities, where kids are victimizing these dogs and then going down a dead-end street themselves — because there are no heroic dog fighters — we will not be doing our job. And I felt we needed to get involved and we needed to do some creative things to reach these kids. So that’s why we have our community based programs. And I am really hopeful that Mike sticks with this and really reaches these kids because he can turn some of them around. I really do believe that.
VO: Their first effort was in Atlanta last weekend, where Vick talked to children in neighborhoods like the one he grew up in.
MICHAEL VICK (AT EVENT): I encourage you to love your animals. — whatever animals you have, whether it’s a dog, a cat, a reptile, if it’s a horse. I encourage you to love that animal dearly and with all your heart.
VO: It’s a message Vick says he never heard when he was a kid in Newport News, Virginia, where he was first exposed to dog fighting when he was eight years old.
MICHAEL VICK: I was introduced very young, so I didn’t think it was wrong because I’d seen older guys, you know, condoning it and then, you know, doing it.
JAMES BROWN: You shared with me the story about, even the police riding through the neighborhood and seeing what was happening. Explain that situation.
MICHAEL VICK: When they got out the car and seen that, you know, it was two dogs fighting, they got back in the car and they roll — they left. So that right there kind of made me feel like, “Okay, you know, this ain’t — it — it is not as bad as it may seem.” We didn’t think it was bad at the time. And, you know, that kind of put a stamp on it.
WAYNE PACELLE: We knew it was a huge issue before Michael Vick was prosecuted, but the public didn’t know. We estimate there are 40,000 professional dog fighters in the country and perhaps 100,000 street fighters. We’re talking about something that’s occurring in every part of the country, rural and urban, white, black, Latino. It is an industry.
JAMES BROWN: What’s the attraction?
WAYNE PACELLE: People enjoy watching these animals compete and fight. They get excited by the bloodletting. They gamble on the outcomes. The fights may last 10 minutes, they may last three hours. Dogs die from shock, they die from blood loss. They suffer, if they survive the process, to maybe fight again. All for what?
VO: When the allegations of dogfighting first arose, Vick made another monumental mistake “” he lied about it to everybody: police, his family, his coaches and to NFL Commissioner Goodell.
MICHAEL VICK: I was scared. I knew my career was in jeopardy. I knew I had an endorsement with Nike and — and I knew it was going to be a big letdown. I felt the guilt and I knew I was guilty, and I knew what I had done. And, not knowing at the time that, you know, actually telling the truth may have been better than, you know, not being honest. And it backfired on me tremendously.
VO: He told us one of his biggest mistakes was lying to Atlanta Falcons’ owner Arthur Blank, who bet the future of the franchise on the young quarterback, awarding him the largest contract in the history of the NFL at the time, $130 million, and stood by him as the charges piled up and Vick fell from grace.
JAMES BROWN: Fair to say that you broke his heart?
MICHAEL VICK: Definitely.
JAMES BROWN: How did that make you feel, given that he was still sticking with you when everybody else turned their backs on you?
MICHAEL VICK: I can’t, you know, describe the feeling. You know, the hurt deep inside, hurt that I never felt before, knowing that I disappointed him, knowing that he’d given me every opportunity to come to him and reach out whenever I needed him. And he cared about me and I took it all for granted.
VO: He also took his own talent for granted. Known for traveling with a large entourage of friends from Virginia, going on wild spending sprees, not focusing on football.
JAMES BROWN: You know what your reputation was like when you were playing?
MICHAEL VICK: Yeah.
JAMES BROWN: What was it?
MICHAEL VICK: I was lazy. You know, I was the last guy in the building, first guy out. I know that. You know, I hear everything that people say. And that hurt me when I heard that, but I know it was true.
JAMES BROWN: It was true?
MICHAEL VICK: It was true.
TONY DUNGY: I think everyone looked at it that way — tremendous athlete, tremendous talent. Very, very gifted guy, who relies on his natural ability . He was exciting and probably didn’t scratch the surface of his potential. And he and I talked about that for a long time in Leavenworth. He talked about not working out, not training, not studying. You know, kind of taking things for granted — gifts that the Lord had given him. Just really living on that and not working at it.
MICHAEL VICK: I just reached the point in my career where I just totally lost touch with my Lord and savior. And you know I thought I could do it on my own. And I couldn’t. So I had to — I had to resurrect that back into my life.
JAMES BROWN: Now, you know, most people who get in trouble, all of a sudden they find God. And you say?
MICHAEL VICK: It’s the only way I made it through prison. It’s the only way I could live life is having faith and believing in — in the higher power, believing in God.
VO: Vick also put his faith in the hands of a powerful group of attorneys, agents and media advisors who are trying to rehabilitate his image and resuscitate his career, and help him through interviews like ours.
JAMES BROWN: Michael, is this you talking? Or the Vick team of attorneys, image-shapers and the like?
MICHAEL VICK: This is Mike Vick. People will see my work out there, my work in the communities and my work with the Humane Society and how I really do care now, how I care about animals.
VO: And a lot of people will be watching. The NFL commissioner’s decision to permanently reinstate him is pending, and the Humane Society [of the United States] has high expectations.
WAYNE PACELLE: You know, Michael is somebody who needs to continue to demonstrate a commitment to this issue. I told him that we were not interested if this was going to be a flash in the pan involvement. And if Mike disappoints us, the public’s going to see that. So it’s not going to reflect badly on me or the Humane Society. It’s going to reflect badly on him.
JAMES BROWN: Will you be committed to all that you said — that folks are hearing you say today?
MICHAEL VICK: Still. Still. And I’m going to let my actions continue to speak louder than my words. And I’m going to still be involved in the community, because I still — regardless of football — would have a voice that can have an impact on kids — because I’ve been a living example of what not to do.
Michael Vick’s statement following his guilty plea in U.S. District Court in Richmond, Va., to a dogfighting conspiracy charge:
“For most of my life, I’ve been a football player, not a public speaker, so, you know, I really don’t know, you know, how to say what I really want to say.
“You know, I understand it’s — it’s important or not important, you know, as far as what you say but how you say things. So, you know, I take this opportunity just to speak from the heart.
“First, I want to apologize, you know, for all the things that — that I’ve done and that I have allowed to happen. I want to personally apologize to commissioner Goodell, Arthur Blank, coach Bobby Petrino, my Atlanta Falcons teammates, you know, for our — for our previous discussions that we had. And I was not honest and forthright in our discussions, and, you know, I was ashamed and totally disappointed in myself to say the least.
“I want to apologize to all the young kids out there for my immature acts and, you know, what I did was, what I did was very immature so that means I need to grow up.
“I totally ask for forgiveness and understanding as I move forward to bettering Michael Vick the person, not the football player.
“I take full responsibility for my actions. For one second will I sit right here — not for one second will I sit right here and point the finger and try to blame anybody else for my actions or what I’ve done.
“I’m totally responsible, and those things just didn’t have to happen. I feel like we all make mistakes. It’s just I made a mistake in using bad judgment and making bad decisions. And you know, those things, you know, just can’t happen.
“Dogfighting is a terrible thing, and I did reject it.
“I’m upset with myself, and, you know, through this situation I found Jesus and asked him for forgiveness and turned my life over to God. And I think that’s the right thing to do as of right now.
“Like I said, for this — for this entire situation I never pointed the finger at anybody else, I accepted responsibility for my actions of what I did and now I have to pay the consequences for it. But in a sense, I think it will help, you know, me as a person. I got a lot to think about in the next year or so.
“I offer my deepest apologies to everybody out in there in the world who was affected by this whole situation. And if I’m more disappointed with myself than anything it’s because of all the young people, young kids that I’ve let down, who look at Michael Vick as a role model. And to have to go through this and put myself in this situation, you know, I hope that every young kid out there in the world watching this interview right now who’s been following the case will use me as an example to using better judgment and making better decisions.
“Once again, I offer my deepest apologies to everyone. And I will redeem myself. I have to.
“So I got a lot of down time, a lot of time to think about my actions and what I’ve done and how to make Michael Vick a better person.
Maske, M. (2007, July 18). Falcons’ Vick indicted In dogfighting case. Washington Post. Retrieved from: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/07/17/AR2007071701393.html
Michael Vick Sentenced to 23 Months in Jail for Role in Dogfighting Conspiracy (2007, December 10). Fox News. Retrieved from: http://www.foxnews.com/story/2007/12/10/michael-vick-sentenced-to-23-months-in-jail-for-role-in-dogfighting-conspiracy.html
Michael Vick’s ’60 Minutes’ interview (2009, August 17). The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Retrieved from: http://www.ajc.com/sports/michael-vick-minutes-interview/8qgdzYJukoa62mKAwdIbmO/
Munson, L. (2009, May 19). The inside story of Vick’s dogfights. ESPN.com. Retrieved from: http://www.espn.com/nfl/news/story?id=4179327
Vick apologizes, asks for forgiveness in post-plea statement (2007, August 28). ESPN.com. Retrieved from: http://www.espn.com/nfl/news/story?id=2993103