Former NFL quarterback Michael Vick, once imprisoned for running a brutal dog fighting operation, has been hired by the Kansas City Chiefs this summer, riling many animal advocates and testing just how much people are willing to forgive.
Vick was convicted in 2007 on federal charges amid horrible accounts of his Bad Newz Kennels that described large fighting rings and, in particular, the abuse and torture of dogs who failed as fighters.
His appearance Tuesday as a coaching intern at the Chiefs training camp in St. Joseph came as a surprise to many and divided observers. While some objected to Vick’s role with the team because of his past crimes, others accepted his efforts to redeem himself.
The hire comes a month after Vick publicly expressed interest in coaching, and at the invitation of Chiefs coach Andy Reid, who was the first to give Vick a chance after he was released from prison in 2009.
Vick spent 18 months in federal prison, most of it at a minimum-security prison camp in Leavenworth. He emerged publicly remorseful, becoming an advocate for the Humane Society of the United States and carrying a message against dog fighting to community groups and schools.
“He’s been trying to spread the word around on animal welfare and telling kids to stay out of this,” said Bob Baker, the executive director of the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation.
Baker reserved his comment, not knowing “if he is truly reformed.”
It will always be hard to get beyond what happened, Baker said, “because of the horrific abuse inflicted on those animals. (Reports showed) they were hanged, some were drowned.”
On Wednesday, Reid talked about bringing Vick to training camp. Reid coached Vick from 2009 to 2012 with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Reid was the first NFL coach to embrace Vick after his prison sentence when he brought him on with the Eagles in 2009 under a wave of harsh public debate. So he is familiar with the stark reactions for and against Vick.
“I invited him here,” Reid said Wednesday. “He had been coaching at the high school level, and he really enjoyed that.
“Like a lot of players, when they get done playing, they are searching for different things to do with their professional life. He has a ton of routes he could go, but he had an interest in coaching so I invited him up here and said, ‘Give it a try. See what you think and see if you like it.’ ”
Vick, a four-time Pro Bowl quarterback, will spend the entire preseason with the Chiefs, working all of training camp, including the four preseason games. He will work primarily with the quarterbacks.
Vick’s internship is a part of the Bill Walsh Minority Coaching Fellowship.
While animal advocacy groups at the state and national level have credited Vick with using his past mistakes to help prevent future tragedies, some in the Kansas City area are not ready to forgive.
A petition has already been launched at change.org calling on people to sign in to “Tell Chiefs NO to Michael Vick.”
The debate played out as well in the comments section under an article about Vick’s presence at training camp, posted Tuesday on the Chiefs’ website.
Under the article, headlined “Andy Reid on Michael Vick helping at camp: ‘He brings that respect,’ ” the first comment lashed out at Vick,
“So sad … what is the world coming to?” wrote Chris Hightshoe-Johnson. “This is really unacceptable and the voices of several dead dogs need to be heard! This is NOT OK! Send Vick packing!”
Others defended Vick, saying he has paid his debt to society and pointing to good works he has done more recently.
“Good lord let it go already,” wrote Chris Abrams. “Since getting out of jail Michael Vick has done more for the breed and dog fighting awareness than most ever will, the man has a lot to offer not only in football but life lessons.”
Vick last played in the NFL during the 2015 season, starting three games for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He stopped playing in 2016 and started coaching at the high school level before officially retiring in February.
Last month, appearing on the sports podcast “Know Them From Adam,” with ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Vick talked about his desire to get into coaching in the NFL.
“I think my heart is really into teaching, you know, the game of football,” Vick told Schefter on the podcast. “I feel like I’ve learned so much from so many great coaches over the years.”
The Humane Society was convinced of Vick’s remorse and his desire to help protect dogs.
“Michael Vick was a role model for many young people, and he lost everything because of what he did to dogs,” read a statement on the Humane Society’s web page on Vick’s role as a messenger against dog fighting.
“His story is the strongest possible example of why dogfighting is a dead end. Just as former drug addicts are able to reach people struggling with addiction, former dogfighters are some of the most effective voices against this crime.”
Virginia Tech University, where Vick was a collegiate superstar in 1999 and 2000, is also dealing with Vick’s past.
Since the university announced Vick’s inclusion in the hall of fame July 11, two online petitions at change.org opposing it have collected more than 93,000 signatures.