Michael Vick has come a long way, and now he can barely keep up with his life, with the requests for his time, the doors opening. When I asked him about the commencement address he gave at Camelot, he said:
“Man, shoot—I never thought I’d be giving a commencement speech, if I even had that in me. I know five years ago I never would have been on that stage. Not because I didn’t want to, just because of the fear of doing it. I think over the years I’ve overcome that fear of speaking in front of crowds, because when you have a lot to say and know what you want to say, it makes it a lot easier.”
Vick was obviously tickled pink to give a commencement address. He said he thought it went well, but that he was very nervous, and that it will go smoother next time.
I realize I judged his flat delivery—the way he didn’t seem present, and the way he talks to kids about dogfighting as if he’s talking about the weather—all wrong. Wali Razaqi, who was at the commencement, suggests that Vick seems withdrawn and unemotional when he’s speaking in public because he’s so intent on getting it right. In fact, he’s always carried himself with stoicism. Poo Johnson, senior VP of the Boys & Girls Club in Newport News, who’s known Vick since he was six, says he would never cry when he got hurt or lost—even at that age. He would never show emotion; he’d just keep on trying. The irony is that now, on the important stuff, Vick is trying in a way that hides him, at moments when we desperately need to feel who he really is.
It frustrates him, our ongoing need to judge. During our conversations, the only times Vick came close to annoyance were when he sensed that maybe I just wasn’t getting something:
“I’m a good person,” he told me at his football camp. “I’m a good person. I’m a good, caring person, and everybody knows it. Everybody who knows me.
“You can see me in an office with a room full of executives, and I bet when they all walk out, they all have smiles on their faces and say, ‘I like that kid’—not because I’ve got it going and put on a front, where I’m portraying somebody I’m not. Because I’m being me. And people like real people.”