It is written in Proverbs that pride goeth before the fall (actually, it is written "Pride goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before the fall," but this passage is seldom quoted correctly); this is certainly an apt description of what has happened to Michael Vick, who is starring in a modern day version of an ancient Greek tragedy. Greek heroes were often undone by their own character flaws, a primary one being hubris (overbearing pride). Rightly or wrongly, in modern American society, successful athletes are heroes--and Michael Vick's hubris has set him up for an epic fall.
"On Friday morning, the last two of Michael Vick's co-defendants in a federal dogfighting case--Quanis Phillips and Purnell Peace--pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to travel in interstate commerce in aid of unlawful activities and to sponsor a dog in an animal fighting venture," begins Lester Munson's latest ESPN.com article about Vick's case; it should be titled, "Requiem for a Fallen Superstar." Their voices are now added to those of four cooperating witnesses plus Tony Taylor, a co-defendant who had already agreed to testify against Vick. Munson writes, "The seven witnesses can describe the alleged dogfighting scheme from its inception in 2001, less than eight weeks after Vick signed his first NFL contract, to its demise three months ago when police raided Vick's compound in rural Surry County. The seven witnesses allegedly can describe Vick building the dogfighting facility, buying dogs, breeding dogs, training dogs, betting on dogs, paying for everything and participating in gruesome executions of losing dogs."
Once you get past the sickening brutality--which is admittedly not easy to do--think about the fact that Vick started engaging in these activities almost immediately after he began a pro football career that could have earned him well over $100 million in salary and endorsements. Whether or not playing football should be considered heroic, with that kind of money and the status that goes with it, Vick could have had a heroic impact on the lives of many people, starting with his own family and radiating outward to his local community and beyond; he could have used that money and influence to lend support to any number of worthy causes, in addition to building a life of luxury for himself and those close to him. Instead, he decided to indulge his appetite for what can only be described as blood lust and brutality.
What does "pride" have to do with any of this? Vick surely felt proud that he could singlehandedly fund this entire operation; he felt proud when dogs that he trained won; he felt proud of being tough enough (in his own twisted perception) to kill dogs that did not win; he felt proud that he was so rich and powerful that he thought he could be above the law and do whatever he wanted without repercussions. The problem, of course, is that his pride was not the authentic, positive pride that comes from a good job well done but the foolish pride that comes from having an inflated perception of one's importance and a distorted view of what really matters.
This foolish pride seems to have extended to the disastrous way that Vick and his attorneys are handling his legal defense. Vick initially denied involvement in the dogfighting ring but he has provided no explanation for how all of these activities could have taken place at his property without his knowledge. Meanwhile, all of his co-defendants have already taken deals and lined up to testify against him. Even if Vick wants to make a deal, what can he offer to the government that it does not already have? Everyone else who is involved has already "rolled" and Vick is the biggest guy--there is nobody for him to "roll" on. Maybe at the last hour Vick and his attorneys will unveil some magic escape plan--like one of Vick's scrambling runs--but at this point it looks like he should have done one of two things a long time ago: either back up his claims of innocence with a detailed explanation of how these things happened without his knowledge or admit to making horrible lapses in judgment and pledge to fully cooperate with the government and animal rights groups to attempt to atone for his misdeeds.
Now Vick seems to be trapped. It is very hard to believe that he and his attorneys can arrange a deal that will not result in him serving at least a year in prison. Plus, since he lied to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell about his actions, Vick can expect to receive a lengthy suspension from the game--possibly for life; while the dogfighting charges are horrendous, Vick's alleged involvement in illegal gambling could prove to be the most damaging infraction from the NFL's perspective. In 1963, stars Paul Hornung and Alex Karras were suspended for a year by NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle because they had bet on NFL games. It is hard to believe that Vick would be suspended for less than a year if he admits to or is convicted of illegally gambling while organizing illegal dogfights and it is not at all difficult to foresee a scenario in which Goodell would impose a lifetime ban on Vick.
Calling this a tragic situation in no way diminishes the fact that Michael Vick should be held entirely responsible for the way that his own actions have brought about his downfall. The tragedy consists of the gulf between what he could have accomplished--on the field and off--and the horrible legacy that is now attached to his name. Sometimes, athletes are praised for "keeping it real" or for staying true to their backgrounds but there is nothing to be proud of when it comes to engaging in cruel and felonious activities. As Emmitt Smith has put it on several occasions, star athletes must deliver a straightforward message to their childhood friends who engage in criminal behavior: I can't go where you are going and if you persist in what you are doing then you can't go where I am going, either. That is not being soft or "selling out"; that is being smart. The sad irony for Vick is that so many members of his lowlife entourage have repaid his "loyalty" by turning on Vick as quickly as possible.