“I stand before you a changed man.”
Michael Vick has never liked speaking in public. On this June day, one of his guys insists that he wear a sport coat—bone-colored, decorated with the outlines of small black squares—over his black shirt. It fits perfectly. He’s a handsome man, and he looks sharp, almost elegant. But this moment is unnerving. He’s more anxious than before a game on Sunday, or when he’s talking to kids about dogfighting. Vick is about to deliver a commencement address in the Kimmel Center to 450 kids who’ve been given a second chance by Camelot Academy, a privately managed high school in North Philly that takes on teens who’ve flunked out of the system, or been kicked out, or quit.
“Good afternoon,” Vick says, and then waits a moment. The crowd calms. “Good afternoon,” he says again, and then thanks the students, who chose him over Michael Nutter to be their speaker, for this opportunity.
“We love you, Vick!!!” a voice rings out. He ignores it.
“I’m honored to be here, and on behalf of my family, I thank you. As you have chosen me, I want you to know, I have chosen you.”
There is quick applause, but already there’s … not a problem, exactly, but you have to wonder: Does Michael Vick believe what he’s saying? Because his face shows nothing as he waits a moment for quiet. Then he says, “I have chosen you to succeed—that’s because I believe in you. You have proven your abilities to overcome adversity, do the right thing and finish school.”
Vick looks down, checks his notes:
“You all are on my team,” he says in a monotone.
Oh, boy. It’s like he’s reading their homework. Which doesn’t matter to this audience of once-lost kids and their families—not on this day. The fact that he is Michael Vick carries his water, and theirs. Still, it’s hard to read him.
“Negativity is easy to get into,” he says flatly, “but hard to get out of.” He talks about goals. “It’s not your journey, it’s the destination. … ”
There is applause. Vick wipes sweat from his brow.
“At one point in time,” he tells the kids, “I was the star quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons—” There’s a smattering of boos, for the reference to an enemy team, and now, for the first time, Vick smiles, shyly. “One second,” he admonishes the crowd gently, waiting, rubbing his nose and his beard.
He goes on to tell them, quickly, that he lost everything—his freedom and his money and his family—because he made irrational- decisions. He tells them to think before they act. Then he says:
“I stand before you all today as a changed man. God has given me a second chance. Use me as an example of how to become an instrument of change, as I have tried to become.”