Anthony Asadullah Samad

*The Monday night football game this week was a lesson in life and redemption. I only saw the first half, but that was enough. I got so excited about the performance of Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback, Michael Vick, I shelved my intended column topic for this week and started over.

On the day that the Washington Redskins gave his mentor and now opponent, Donovan McNabb, a $78 million dollar five year contract extension, Vick-the NFL top rated quarterback, threw three touchdowns and run for two more as the Eagles scored 28 points in the first quarter and 45 points in the first half. There was only one quarterback on the field that night that looked like he was worth $78 million. And it wasn’t McNabb.

That is the irony of the politics of redemption. Second chance success stories in our society are far and few in between. People choose to forget who you are and remember what you did, instead of forgetting what you did and remembering who you are. Michael Vick may never be able to get people to forget what he did, but he is making people remember who he is…he’s still Michael Vick, a player so talented that it made him the highest paid player in the game. He’s using his second chance to show it.

Condemned animal abuser, convicted felon, bankrupt debtor and person people love to hate, Michael Vick’s fall from grace wasn’t kind. His climb to respectability has been slow and humbling, at times, even humiliating. But he’s picked himself up, dusted himself off, pulled his chin up and made it back to the National Football League.

In a society too quick to want to throw people away when they make a mistake, we rarely see the redemption side of the “throwaway.” Only the rehashing of the events that led to it. People remember that Michael Vick was jailed for bankrolling dog fighting operations for almost two years. They forget he was the league’s highest paid player before it happened. Michael Vick signed the league’s most lucrative contract, $130 million dollars over 10 years in 2004. Most of that contract was voided when he was convicted in 2007.

He now plays for near the league minimum, a paltry $5.2 million dollars, after he was signed by the Eagles in 2009 to a two year contract worth eight million dollars. He was still Michael Vick when he signed the contract, but they paid him less because he was considered “damage goods.” That’s how they do people they think nobody wants to hire, no matter how talented. The only damage to Vick was in the eyes of society, even after he had paid his debt to society.

Michael Vick is a perfect example of how an ex-convicted person is discriminated against-paid less-exploited just because they can. He’ll earn another $3 million in performance incentives over these two years, which he most surely will collect, but it’s not the $10-14 million a year he was earning on the field a few years ago. He lost just as much in endorsement deals. But he showed he hasn’t lost a step on the field. Only his compensation has suffered serious injury. Not for an injury on the field, but for a mistake off the field.

Other athletes have made much worse “judgment” mistakes than Michael Vick. Kobe Bryant, Tiger Woods and Ben Rothlesburger just to name a few. Vick assaults were on dignity of pit bulls, the most distained domestic animal in our society. The others were assaults on the dignity of people, and none of them have gone to jail, none of them had their primary contracts voided though they all suffered some endorsement damages. But at the end of the day, Kobe was Kobe on the court, Tiger is still Tiger on the course, and “Big Ben,” like Vick, is showing he’s still who he was before his suspension. All of their reputations in repair, none of them have to overcome the “ex-convict” hurdle. The only thing that can help that go away is a pardon, which is not likely—at least for a while. Michael Vick will just have to endure it and endured it he has. Nobody has been willing to give Vick his props besides his coach who recognized that he was just too good to sit down, and few even offered him a second chance. Many think that the politics of Vick’s conviction had more to do with the money he made than the crime he committed. It’s just one of those things we all know shouldn’t have happened the way it happened. But it did and few come back from hits like this.

That’s what makes it so good to watch Michael Vick’s comeback. Bad times don’t last always, and at the end of the bad times…a player is still a player and the cream rises to the top. Michael Vick is making the best of his second chance and that’s a great thing for the thousands of second chancers waiting for people to stop talking about them and thousands more waiting for the chance to prove themselves again. Neither will happen, so second chancers just have to make the best of it. It’s great watching commentators and sports pundits eat their words. For all the haters and doubters, guess what? Michael Vick is still Michael Vick, the best player in the game. You can’t take that away from him…even though they tried. The politics of second chances has one true reality…if given the chance, those with skill and talent will show it and succeed.

Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum (www.urbanissuesforum.com) and author of the upcoming book, REAL EYEZ: Race, Reality and Politics in 21st Century Popular Culture. He can be reached at www.AnthonySamad.com.