We’re guessing the title above either made you shout an expletive or emit a compassionate sigh. Michael Vick is what we call a polarizing figure, and the public views him as either a heartless torturer of innocent animals or a man who has paid his dues to society and earned the right to move on in life.
As PR professionals, we won’t judge Vick here, but we will break down his relationship with the public because, like it or not, Michael Vick is a public relations textbook still in the making. Here’s the story:
Michael Vick, from Hampton Roads, Virginia, was the electric quarterback for Virginia Tech before being selected as the number one pick in the 2001 NFL draft by the Atlanta Falcons. Vick had undeniable talent, awe-inspiring athleticism…and tens of millions of dollars to show for his gifts before playing a single professional down. This was a 30 for 30 script long before the show ever aired on ESPN.
A series of poor financial and personal decisions, alongside a smug attitude toward his quarterbacking duties somehow culminated in an FBI investigation, lies to the NFL commissioner and, ultimately, jail time for running a dog fighting ring with “friends” near his hometown. This wasn’t the usual cocaine and hookers–this was brutality and Fido. The public wanted blood. Vick went to jail, and most thought the story would end there, as any aspirations of a comeback seemed doomed by both human reality and spiritual karma.
But Vick came back, and so did the public relations angle to his story. The Philadelphia Eagles gave him a chance amid vehement public outcries that the decision was either a disgrace to human decency or a triumph of human transformation. The NFL and the Eagles, of course, wanted the public to believe the latter–some fans did, some fans didn’t. Time passed. The Eagles won some games, but not a championship, and now Michael Vick has a family, fumbles a lot, and just got a new dog.
No PR campaign can change the true nature of a person, and as we always preach here, the truth always prevails simply because it never goes away (just ask Lance Armstrong). Much of the public will never forgive Michael Vick, while others forgave him a long time ago. Where you stand is up to you, and those collective stances constitute public opinion.
Vick claims he is doing this to teach his children compassion for animals and to break the cycle of violence. As he explained to the Associated Press in this article, “I’m not a psychopath. I’m not crazy. I’m a human being… What happened in my past and what I did in the culture I grew up in doesn’t shape and mold me as the person I am now.”
The Humane Society, which Vick has worked with since being released from a prison in 2009, declined to comment. From a PR standpoint that’s a wise move by the Society–because when it comes to people, you just never know.