Before he became a symbol of animal cruelty, Michael Vick was one of the most electrifying players in American football. As quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons, he was the highest paid player in the league, and he pulled in tens of millions of dollars in endorsements.
But it all came to an abrupt end two years ago when police raided a farm Vick owned in Virginia and uncovered an illegal dog fighting operation. He eventually pled guilty to bankrolling the enterprise and participating in every aspect of it, including killing dogs that refused to fight. He was sentenced to two years in prison, and eventually declared bankruptcy.
Last month he was released and conditionally reinstated into the NFL.
Friday, at a press conference in Philadelphia, it was announced he'd be playing for the Philadelphia Eagles, after signing a two-year contract, with the possibility of earning nearly $7 million.
In his first interview since going to prison, Michael Vick explains what he did, why he did it, and how he says he has changed.
"The first day I walked into prison, and he slammed that door, I knew the magnitude of the decision that I made, and the poor judgment, and what I allowed to happen to the animals. And, you know, it's no way of explaining the hurt and the guilt that I felt. And that was the reason I cried so many nights. And that put it all into perspective," Vick told CBS Sports anchor James Brown.
Asked what he cried about, Vick said, "What I did, you know, being away from my family, letting so many people down. I let myself down, not being out on the football field, being in a prison bed, in a prison bunk, writing letters home, you know. That wasn't my life. That wasn't the way that things was supposed to be. And all because the so-called culture that I thought was right, that I thought it was cool. and I thought it was fun, and it was exciting at the time. It all led to me laying in a prison bunk by myself with no one to talk to but myself."
"Who do you blame for all of this?" Brown asked.
"I blame me," Vick replied.
Vick was a human highlight reel, with a powerful arm, blazing speed, and an uncanny ability to elude tacklers. He's the only quarterback in NFL history to rush over 1,000 yards in a season, though he was injured a lot, and never lived up to the high expectations of football fans in Atlanta.
Very few people knew what was happening in his life off the field. When police raided a farm he owned in rural Virginia in 2007, they uncovered an interstate dogfighting operation called "Bad Newz Kennels."
They removed 66 dogs, and exhumed the bodies of eight more. They also found dogfighting paraphernalia and a pit where fights were held.
The dogs that were saved - raised and trained to be vicious fighters - are now being rehabilitated in hopes of being adopted, all at the expense of Vick, who was ordered by a judge to pay nearly $1 million for the effort.
"And the operation, Michael, that you pleaded guilty to bankrolling, to being a part of, engaged in barbarous treatment of the animals - beating them, shooting them, electrocuting them, drowning them. Horrific things, Michael," Brown remarked.
"It's wrong, man," Vick said. "I don't know how many times I gotta tell, I gotta say it. I mean it was wrong. I feel tremendous hurt behind what happened. And, you know, I should've took the initiative to stop it all. And I didn't. And I feel so bad about that now. And I know that I didn't I didn't step up. I wasn't a leader."
"In any way, for those who may say it showed a lack of moral character because you didn't stop it, you agree or disagree?" Brown asked.
"I agree," Vick said.