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Three Men Out

They had it all . . . and then.

Apr 21, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 30 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
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Vick was the quarterback of the future. The hottest star in the grandest and gaudiest sport in the world, American professional football. The broadcast of the Super Bowl is the highest-rated show on television, year after year, and in 2005, Vick had fallen one game short of getting his team, the Atlanta Falcons, into the game. It seemed inevitable that he would get there. If not the next year, then eventually.

He was a new kind of quarterback. He could throw and he could run and he could throw on the run. The words “elusive” and “electrifying” became default modifiers for his name in the millions of words of excited commentary that were written and spoken about him and helped turn him, like Woods and Armstrong, into something more than a star athlete. Like them, Vick was a celebrity and a brand, especially in Atlanta, where he played and endorsed Coca-Cola, the iconic home town product, and where his face was ubiquitous. And he had the right face for it. He was movie-star handsome, with a smile that lit up his face so brilliantly it seemed just short of artificial.

But this was not the movies, and Vick revealed a bad boy side, occasionally, while the cameras of real life were still rolling. He made an obscene gesture to some fans who were heckling; was pretty nearly caught with some marijuana concealed inside a water bottle that he denied, not very credibly, was his. He lived fast.

But none of that prepared the world for his exposure as someone who liked to watch dogs fight and kill each other, who owned pit bulls that he gambled on in fights and on several occasions killed by hanging or electrocution after they had lost.

Vick, who had made more than $20 million the previous year, lost everything and went to prison.

He came back after his release, made all the right moves and said all the right things. The Philadelphia Eagles took a chance on him. But there are millions of fans who will never forgive him. He is now an aging quarterback on a troubled franchise. The Eagles recently traded him to the Jets, who already have their quarterback of the future, a nimble kid who may even be the “next Michael Vick.” Meanwhile, fans are petitioning the school where the Jets are planning to train this summer. They do not want the dog killer on their campus.

Is there a moral to these three stories? Perhaps only that a celebrity culture seems destined to produce an Icarus subculture. It is interesting to ponder the human capacity for self-destruction, even as we enjoy the games. Scott Fitzgerald famously wrote, “Show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy.” Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, Marine Corps ace and Medal of Honor recipient, modified that to “Show me a hero and I’ll show you a bum.” In sports, maybe you just split the difference.

Geoffrey Norman, a writer in Vermont, is a frequent contributor to The Weekly Standard.

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