A quarterback in trouble (cont.)
Posted: Wednesday May 9, 2007 7:27PM; Updated: Thursday May 10, 2007 11:22AM
After interviewing those who have watched up close as Vick's saga has unfolded in Atlanta this decade, it's obvious the Falcons organization bears some responsibility for his troubling pattern of behavior. Team owner Arthur Blank has been too quick to either coddle Vick or excuse his actions, even after Vick creates headlines that embarrass the organization.
"Blank is in complete denial, in part because he spent $130 million on the guy,'' one source said. "Vick is his investment. When Vick does something wrong, he has Blank to run to. Blank and his wife, Stephanie, really coddle the guy. They baby him. I think they've enabled the situation to the highest degree. They've not held Vick accountable for his actions.''
Reached Wednesday in Cabo San Lucas, where he's on vacation, Blank refuted the notion that he or his wife have coddled Vick. In the same breath he acknowledged that his team's star quarterback has reached a "crossroads'' stage in his career.
"There's no coddling going on here,'' Blank said. "Whatever is 180 degrees from that, that's the reality. The [financial] investment we've made in him has nothing to do with the way we treat him. When Michael has done something wrong that has been documented, we've had very direct conversations with him. We don't have all the facts of the [dog fighting] investigation, but obviously the story's not developing well. Which is one of the reasons why I asked the commissioner to speak to Michael about the situation and to be as stern as he felt he needed to be.''
Blank said he personally told Vick in recent days that his behavior must change, and not just his words -- or else.
"I would say Michael understands, and I told him he is in essence on a short leash,'' Blank said. "His behavior cannot go on this way. His actions need to be different; his decisions need to be different. He can't just talk about changing things, he has to change his life. He says he understands, and I'm hoping he's being truthful with us and wants to deal with it. I hope he has the personal strength. I think it's very appropriate to say he's at a crossroads.''
Increased accountability is something the Falcons have talked about in connection with Vick's off-field mis-steps in the past, but their non-actions have spoken loudest. Vick reached a point in his Falcons tenure a few years ago when, according to one source, he needed more "kicks in the butt than pats on the back.'' But despite that being obvious, the source said the Falcons continued to "protect Vick from his own mistakes and downplay their significance, rather than get him to recognize they're not acceptable.''
There appear to be at least two key developments that helped sow the seeds for Vick's recent spate of off-field incidents: One was when Vick's mother, Brenda Boddie, moved from his house in Atlanta back home to Virginia at the start of his third NFL season, in 2003. With her stabilizing presence gone, Vick's coterie of friends had more opportunity to occupy his time and agenda. The second, more dramatic change might have occurred when Vick signed his huge second contract, in December 2004. The 10-year extension was worth $130 million and included a $37 million signing bonus.
"Money is empowering to athletes, because you can always spend money to overcome some of the conduct that shouldn't be tolerated,'' one source said. "They [pro athletes] come to think that money can absolve them of almost anything.''
There was at least one common theme among everybody who talked about Vick's problems: Many of his issues come from whom he chooses to associate with, and be influenced by. Vick's entourage "has nothing to do but sit around his house,'' a source said. Vick's mother is said to have moved back to Virginia in part due to her distaste for her son's choice of friends.
Vick accedes to his friends' wishes far too often, eventually giving in to them if they continue to harass him about any particular topic or activity, a source said. "Mike's the classic case of the guy who listens to the last person who speaks to him, whether it's a 15-year-old or a 50-year-old. He doesn't have a barometer about whether it's a good thing or a bad thing. That's how something like the dog fighting can get started. That's where he's so easily influenced.''
Blank said he recently urged Vick to break ties with either friends or family members who have been shown to not have his best interests in mind.
"I hope he'll make some good choices and get on with his life,'' Blank said. "I told Michael, 'You've heard of the saying you are what you eat?' Well, you are who you spend time with as well. Who you hang out with, it's important. It's part of who you are known as, as a person and an NFL player.''
And while Vick contends he was unaware of what was going on with pit bulls at his Virginia premises, his interest in the breed is well known. One source recounted to SI.com how a year or so ago, Vick and a neighbor got into a disagreement about the safety of Vick keeping two pit bulls in an unfenced yard at his home in suburban Atlanta. The neighbor went to Vick's home and complained to him that there were children in the neighborhood and that the dogs were a potential safety issue.
Vick just "laughed in the guy's face and told him to get the hell out of there,'' the source said. "We just kind of knew he was involved with pits.''
That same source believes that Vick will likely end up beating any potential rap in connection with dog-fighting in Virginia. In this case, Vick's entourage could be a help, not a hindrance. According to the source, in other NFL situations like this, someone in the group often steps up and takes the blame. "Vick is the meal ticket," the source said. "If he takes the fall, all the money goes away. They're not going to let that happen.''
Vick's accountability issues appear to be nearing the stage of reaching critical mass in Atlanta, but how the rest of 2007 plays out could be critical to determining his future as a Falcon. Vick out-lasted both of his first two head coaches in Atlanta, Dan Reeves and Jim Mora, who both left town with winning career records.
How new head coach Bobby Petrino deals with Vick's situation will be closely watched. Increased on-field success would likely take some of the focus off the questions about Vick's personal conduct. But even with more touchdowns and victories in Atlanta this season, the spotlight is on Vick like never before.