Cynical as I am, I bought it. I bought Michael Vick's sincerity, his apology, his self-loathing. If there's a price to pay later for my gullibility ... fine. I'll pay it.
Because I bought it.
Two days after signing with the Philadelphia Eagles and giving us a peek into his soul, Vick appeared Sunday night on 60 Minutes and laid himself bare. And listen to me: I normally despise these interviews of contrition. They're nothing more than a public relations appearance for the subject and a ratings grab for the network.
And I wasn't going to watch this one. CBS was going to get its ratings, but it was going to do so without me. That was my position, and if you could hack into the CBSSports.com e-mail system, you would know I'm telling the truth. Well, here, I'll hack into it for you. Here's my e-mail to my boss on Friday morning, after he told me that I had to watch it, because I had to write about it:
I honestly don't care what Vick has to say, and I hate these "exclusive" interviews. There's nothing he can say that will register with me.
Been there, done that. Alex Rodriguez after his steroids. Roger Clemens after his steroids. Brett Favre after his first retirement and Bob Knight after his firing and now Michael Vick after his dog-killing. These things are tedious, and beyond my ability to believe. Vick's sorry? Suuuuure he is. He's sorry he got caught. He's sorry he went bankrupt. He's sorry we hate him.
And lots of us did. We hated Vick. I know I did, and it was easy for me. Start with my natural cynicism, and then multiply it by my love for the two dogs that sleep every night on my bed, and you've got one enormous sum of hatred.
But I watched Vick on 60 Minutes, and I can't hate him anymore. This is a personal thing, my feeling for Vick -- just like yours is personal to you -- so don't read this as an advice column. I'm not telling you how to feel. But I do want to ask:
If you hated Vick before Sunday night, and you watched him on 60 Minutes, how could you hate him now?
On national television, the man laid himself bare. He didn't just assume the fetal position, protecting his head and body as he lay at interviewer James Brown's feet. No, he went well beyond that. Michael Vick, for several minutes of incredible television, became like the animals he once killed: He flopped onto his back and showed his belly. He was as vulnerable as he could be, and I'm surprised he never cried. Honestly, I did. Once. When he was shown speaking at a Humane Society event and he looked out onto the crowd of children and urged them "to love your animals. Whatever animals you have, whether it's a dog, a cat, a reptile, a horse. I encourage you to love them with all your heart."
Vick said some incredible stuff Sunday night too, and not because Brown tricked or bullied or even shamed him into it. Brown never got the chance to do any of those things. Vick was in such a hurry to rip himself, Brown might have done better had he just handed over a microphone and walked out of the room.
And Vick didn't just rip himself, though he did do that. He said his dogfighting "was disgusting. Sickens me to my stomach ..."
James Brown: "And the feeling you're feeling right now?"
Michael Vick: "Disgust. Pure disgust ... because of what I let happen to those animals."
But more than tearing into himself, Vick also tore into his own upbringing, his neighborhood, his boys. Vick didn't just fall on the sword. He fell on it, then pulled it out of his stomach and started slashing at the culture that created him, at age 8, when he saw his first dogfight and thought it was "cool."
"The so-called 'culture' that I thought was right," Vick said. "I thought it was cool, and I thought ... it was fun, and it was exciting at the time. It all landed me in a prison bunk by myself with no one to talk to but myself."
In other words, Vick gets it. A few years back, his "friends" were more than happy to spend his money and use his influence and land and even his weakness to stage a dogfighting operation. But when it was time to pay the price, it was left again to Vick to foot the bill. His friends were gone.
Vick also admitted, without being asked, to crying himself to sleep in prison. That admission wasn't just a separation from his knucklehead-tough background, where men don't cry. That admission was a declaration of divorce.
Brown gave Vick a few chances to make excuses or point fingers, and Vick refused.
James Brown: "Who do you blame for all of this?"
Michael Vick: "I blame me."
Not, "I blame me but ..."
Nope. Very simply, "I blame me."
Later, Brown asked him: "For those who may say it showed a lack of moral character because you didn't stop [the dogfighting], you agree or disagree?"
Michael Vick: "I agree."
Not, "I agree but ..."
Nope. Very simply, "I agree."
There were other highlights. Vick said he should have taken the initiative to stop the dogfighting, but he lamented, "I wasn't a leader." Vick also wondered aloud why someone with so much to lose would lose it in such a horrific manner:
"I deserve to lose the $130 million," he said. "Why would a guy who was making $130 million and, you know, on the flip side killing dogs or doing the wrong things ... he don't deserve it."
Vick even conceded that the dogfighting wasn't his only character flaw, admitting to being a bad employee of the Atlanta Falcons: "Oh, I was lazy," he said. "Last guy in the building, first guy out. ... It was true."
How can you hate a guy who so clearly hates himself? Maybe you can do it. I can't. Not after Vick uttered the words, "I've been a living example of what not to do."
Incredible. This whole thing. Incredible. Two days ago I would have laughed in your face if you'd shown me this column and said I was going to be the one to write it, but here we are. Not only did I write this column, but I wrote this: I'm rooting for Michael Vick. And if there's a price to pay for my naiveté, I'll pay it.