Some Thoughts on ‘Vick,' B/R's First Longform Documentary

For its first swing at a long form doc, Bleacher Report took on a topic that Eagles fans are all too familiar with: The story of Michael Vick. The 30 for 30-esque Vick chronicles the life of the polarizing quarterback in five parts, each released with a day of the week beginning last Monday.

We’re all roughly acquainted with the rags to riches to rags to riches saga, but this film is ambitious enough to dig deeply through the journey from impoverished childhood to worldwide superstardom to fall from grace and imprisonment to release and redemption, all along offering vindication of the ideal and importance of second chances in our culture.

Vick gets about as detailed as a documentary can get trying to squeeze the life of one of professional sports’ most polarizing figures in to what seems like a pretty quick fifty minutes. There’s a lot of ground to cover, but director Johnny Sweet does it well.

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There were a few interesting tidbits and takeaways from the doc worth mentioning.

It’s probably not going to change any minds about Michael Vick.

People who don’t like Mike are likely to dislike him all the same after watching Vick. The film does a masterful job in illustrating both the poverty-stricken community of his youth in which his criminal dog fighting activity was ingrained as well the extent, post-prison, to which he has gone in lobbying against animal cruelty, giving back to his community, and generally growing personally. I don’t think there are many people out there doubting the fact that Michael Vick is a changed man now. As Kelly Naqi, an ESPN reporter assigned to Vick investigation, stated in the film, “he has taken all the right steps” and “paid his debt to society.”

BUT, I don’t think that’s what the vast anti-Vick population is concerned with. They are, understandably so, concerned with what he did and are unable to look beyond it. It’s a valid concern--and this documentary shows very little discretion in painting a vivid picture of the dark, dark world that is dogfighting. Featuring actual footage of dogfights and the eerie scenes of the Bad Newz Kennels, a mansion in the middle of nowhere essentially gutted to it’s innards, covered in blood stains and scratch marks--it’s difficult for anyone, Vick fan or not, to get through those scenes without feeling some sort of anger or hatred toward what happened.

So when you watch the film, which I’d recommend, take it for what it is. If you can’t forgive him for his crimes, he’s okay with that.

Donovan Mcnabb’s role in Vick’s career from the beginning is surprising.

One of the more frequent contributors to Vick is Philadelphia’s own Donovan McNabb. Early on, you learn that Michael Vick and Number Five weren’t just teammates here in Philly, they were almost teammates at Syracuse. When Michael was still in high school, Don actually helped in heavily recruiting him to take his job once he left school. Donovan insisted that the decision between Syracuse and Virginia Tech was a difficult one for Vick, while Vick recalled it as a no brainer, not wanting to have to fill Donovan’s shoes.

Ironically, it was much of the same when Vick was released from prison in 2009. Donovan remembers a phone call with one of his financial guys insisting he talk with Vick, who had remained friends with Donovan over the years. When Vick expressed his desire to get back into the league, according to Donovan, he was able to get Andy’s ear and make it happen. It’s hard not to respect him for bringing in the guy who would eventually take his job because, “it was good for the team and good for Mike.”

Philly and Vick was about as good a match as Vick was going to get.

Take a wild guess at the one athlete several of the films contributors drew Michael Vick comparison to. One of Philly’s favorites: Allen Iverson.

Before Vick’s time in prison, him and Iverson were much of one in the same. Two super-athletes at the top of their sports. Representative of their respective cities. Both defiant and misunderstood. Largely influenced by hip hop culture. Both doing things their own way. Both from the same neighborhood in Newport News, Virginia.

There was no shot that Atlanta was taking him back but, as a city, Philadelphia was really the next best thing. It’s a city that, as blunt, abrasive, and in your face it as it can be, is understanding of it’s characters and their flaws. That’s largely because of its characters like Allen Iverson, and because of that, it’s a city willing to offer a second chance where a second chance is due. It wasn’t a surprise at all that he was able to flourish here with a mentor in McNabb and a city that gets it.

It left a few questions left to consider.

Perhaps the most intense moment of Vick was during part of an interview with Jim Knorr, an investigator in the Bad Newz Kennels case.

“To your knowledge with the investigation, what other NFL or professional athletes were known to be frequent members at these dog fights?” the interviewer asked.

“I can’t comment on that,” Knorr replied, uncomfortably, followed by a long silence.

It’s something that could make the most passionate sports fan cringe. Thinking about the guys who we cheer for on Sundays, the guys whose jerseys we buy for ourselves and our kids to wear. No one enjoys being lectured on the ethics of rooting for *Chip Kelly voice* “character guys,” but this is a film that will at least make you think about it.

I, as not only a football fan, but as a loving dog owner and (I think) ethically sound human being, am proud to show support for Michael Vick today. He did what he did for a number of undeniably tragic reasons, but he also did the time for it. He paid his debt to society and beyond, lobbying against animal abuse, educating the community about the issues of his crimes, and probably, over time, doing more good for the cause than bad.

There are worse guys out there we can root for to do well. *cough, cough, Greg Hardy*

Vick, whether it can change the perception of the man in your mind or not, is worth a watch. If not for the electrifying highlights and introspective undertones, it’s a profoundly compelling story of one of the most interesting athletes, on and off the field, that we’ve seen in recent years.

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