"You tried to teach me better, but I refused to grow,
Goddamn, I ain't the young man that you used to know"
--Soon You'll Understand, Jay-Z
It's been a very long time since I've felt bad for Michael Vick.
I didn't think the sentencing would change that, and the number alone--23 months--didn't do it for me. He's still clearly getting what he deserves for engaging in a disgusting enterprise and lying about it on numerous occasions. I continue to hope he'll never suit up for the Falcons again, with that bridge being burned, dropped into a vat of acid and then sent into outer space. He has done nothing to deserve my sympathy, and I fully recognize that.
You never know what will blindside you, though.
Vick's brother, Marcus, sat with his right arm around their mother as he buried her head in her hands and wept. She left the courtroom for a few minutes, but returned in time for the hearing, where Vick was sentenced to 23 months in federal prison for his role in a dogfighting operation.
Maybe it's corny to say, but for some reason I couldn't get that out of my head all day. I tried to imagine what it must be like to watch your son sentenced to prison in front of your eyes, to watch your pride and joy complete his fall from grace. I don't claim to know what Brenda Boddie is like as a mother, but what else could she do? Marcus Vick had already blown his chance at an NFL career, at the security, prestige and riches that come with it. Now the dream is shattered for Mike, who has gone from overrated-yet-exciting QB to inmate in less than a year. I honestly can't imagine what it would be like to see someone you know throw it all away in such spectacular fashion.
We don't know Vick, most of us. Those of us who have given up on him as a player have torn down our posters, leaving only the tiny scraps of paper under the tacks as evidence they were ever there. Those of you who still support and believe in Vick are probably sleeping in your jerseys tonight, dreading all the awful jokes you'll hear over the next few months. Then there's the rest of the NFL fanbases, which probably either laugh at our misfortune or pity us. All of us miss the point, to some extent.
With almost no chance of coming back to the NFL until 2010, Mike Vick is more or less screwed. I'd wager his money will be all but dried up by then, and he'll never walk the streets again without someone glaring at him, spitting at him or taunting him. The media will forget about him for a while, but Vick will never have that luxury. He'll be punished for this for the rest of his life.
During those 23 months, we'll continue to gripe about the Falcons. We'll forget soon enough what it was like to root for a team with Mike Vick. We'll all be absorbed in rent payments, our jobs and our families while he wanders the prison yard. God willing, this team that goes on without him will find some real success in the meantime.
When he gets out, Vick will be a man who destroyed the American dream and left himself with nothing, an NFL star who imploded in more spectacular fashion than he ever played. I hope that by then, he'll have found some uneasy form of redemption, whether or not anyone else accepts it. He just won't be a Falcon any longer, and I won't soon shake the image of his poor mother staggering out of the court room. Like all of us, she likely couldn't understand what happened to her son, the man who made his living scrambling away from trouble. The man whose vast potential could fill an entire room. The athlete who was supposed to save the Atlanta Falcons.
In the end, our franchise savior couldn't even save himself.