This column was written by Tony Mandarich, who, after a highly successful college football career at Michigan State University, was the second player selected in the 1989 NFL draft by the Green Bay Packers. He now co-owns Mandarich LLC, a national Internet marketing services company.
In the NFL, you can't take things for granted. You shouldn't expect to coast along on past glories or some bloated sense of your ego or your own abilities. There are no shortcuts to the end zone. Sometimes, just as you're running down what you think is an open field, a hard hit from a defensive back sends you limping to the sidelines.
The same things are true in life, and Michael Vick is learning that the hard way. Well, I certainly hope he is learning.
Michael Vick was just released from his 23 month prison sentence, a just punishment for a cruel and inhumane crime. As a longtime pet owner, I was personally offended at the brutal acts he committed. As a former NFL player and, more importantly, a human being who has made plenty of mistakes myself, I wish him the best of luck on his journey to redemption.
Certainly no one would dispute that Michael Vick's actions were unconscionable and illegal. People all across the country were rightly outraged - my wife would certainly never allow him near our dogs.
As time passed, and as the end of his sentence approached, an inevitable question began to be asked more and more often: "Should Vick be allowed to play in the NFL again?"
I don't believe you can separate the athlete from the man. Deciding whether he deserves another chance as a football player is tied to deciding whether he deserves another chance to be a functioning member of society. I believe he should be given the chance to be both.
My struggles with steroids, drugs, and alcohol precipitated my own downfall in the NFL. While I didn't have to be incarcerated, on a personal level I am just as guilty of violating a sense of decency toward the league, the fans, and, most importantly, myself and my loved ones.
Atoning for my mistakes in my own mind and heart, and to my family, were the first things I did. I believe that should be a priority for Michael as well. You can't rebuild a house on a shaky foundation, so moving ahead, Michael Vick will only have a chance at football if he secures his own identity as a grounded, humble human being first. A fall from grace in professional sports often ends in a debilitating thud.
Climbing back up was no easy task for me, but with perseverance and the support of others I was able to do so. Making the return back onto the field was one of the greatest accomplishments of my life. After all, what people accomplish can be impressive, but what they overcome is the true measure of the being.
Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying we should give Michael Vick a free pass. To the person that much is given, much is expected. To the person that much is given, and by whom much has been spoiled, even more should be expected. Professional athletes are larger than life, both in their physical and social stature, and they seem to do things physically impossible for most people. Every touchdown pass Michael Vick has thrown was viewed by millions and recorded for posterity in the ESPN archives.
And, just as his every achievement was magnified, his mistakes off the field will be more scrutinized. There will continue to be a magnifying glass held over his actions. He now has an opportunity to redeem himself and serve his community in a way most others who have made the same mistakes cannot.
I believe it's not just an opportunity for him, but a responsibility.
Football players are just like everybody else - we put our pants on one leg at a time.
So what do you do when you're knocked down and on the sidelines, feeling like you've disappointed yourself and the people around you, with a chorus of boos raining down from the crowd? You get up, line up with your team, work hard on the next play and do it right. Then, just maybe, the fans will come around, your teammates will rally around you, and you'll start to make a difference. That's the best Michael Vick can expect and, at the very least, we should give him the opportunity to expect that of himself.
He has influenced millions by his play on the field; he has the opportunity to influence many more millions by doing the right things now.
By Tony Mandarich
Special to CBSNews.com
Copyright 2009 CBS. All rights reserved.