Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Inside of a church in Southwest, with a line of police standing against the back wall and rows of television cameras pointing toward his eyes, Michael Vick clutched the sides of a pulpit Tuesday and took another step toward his redemption.
The Philadelphia Eagles quarterback wore a gray shirt and gazed throughout the crowd at the Covenant Baptist Church as he told a now-familiar story of how as a young child he watched dogfights in his Newport News, Va., neighborhood and eventually fell into a dogfighting operation so vast and organized it would lead to his arrest, a 23-month prison term and more than two-year suspension from professional football. But he was at his most poignant when he spoke about his fiancée Kijafa Frank, who joined him along with their two young daughters, saying she didn't know what he was doing with his dogfighting operation but "knew something was happening," when he'd return home from dogfights in the early morning hours.
"Anything can happen when you're fighting dogs at two or three in the morning," he said. "I'm blessed to be before you and still have my life. It's like standing on the corner and dealing drugs. It's a criminal life."
As he said this, several women in the church added shouts of "mmmmhmmmm" and "That's right."
Vick was in D.C. as part of an arrangement he has made with Wayne Pacelle, the president and CEO of the Humane Society, to make two public appearances a month to speak out against dogfighting. The agreement played a significant role in NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's decision to end Vick's suspension last week, allowing him to play in the Eagles' game last Sunday. Previous events had been held at schools in Chicago, Philadelphia and Atlanta. But the Humane Society also wants Vick to speak to churches, especially in the inner cities where his word will have the most impact and where dogfighting is often prevalent.
Most of his talks have been aimed at younger people, particularly teenagers. And there was a small mix of high school-aged kids among the roughly 75 in attendance.
Throughout the first few years of his career in Atlanta, Vick said: "I didn't care what I was doing. I didn't care about what was happening or if I got caught or exposed. I never thought about the animals. I was only interested in my own amusement. Something so pointless. I can't even comprehend why I did it."
Later he added: "There's nothing like being locked down 23 hours a day with nothing to do but think about what I did."
These were some of the more powerful things Vick has said publicly in the two months since he re-emerged in public life, starting when the Eagles announced his signing in August. But his appearance seemed to cause some concern, as six D.C. police officers showed up at the event, frightening several teenagers in the neighborhood who saw the police and didn't want to come into the church.
The event went on without incident, however. Vick, who drove down from Philadelphia, parked his Mercedes behind the church -- just below a yard where a dog barked ferociously -- and was escorted in and out by police.
-- Les Carpenter