August 17, 2009
Kevin Sullivan is the founder of Kevin Sullivan Communications, LLC. He was White House communications director under President George W. Bush, and before that was a communications executive with NBC Universal, NBC Sports and the Dallas Mavericks.
Sure, I reserve the requisite amount of skepticism for all athlete comebacks these days, but I believe that Vick is sorry for his crimes and understands that only his actions will convince people he has changed.
There were four moments in Sunday night's exclusive "60 Minutes" interview that convinced me:
• When James Brown confronted Vick with a graphic recitation of the acts associated with the Bad Newz Kennels dogfighting operation, then asked him, "For those who may say it showed a lack of moral character because you didn't stop it, you agree or disagree?" Vick didn't hesitate, equivocate, hem or haw. "I agree," was his simple reply.
• When Brown asked Vick, "Who do you blame for all of this?" Vick once again resisted the urge to deflect the question or share the blame with others.
"I blame me."
• And when Brown asked Vick how he feels about his actions today, I expected Vick to take a page from the crisis management playbook and say something along the lines of, "What's most important now is that I move forward and work to make amends for what I did by being active in the community."
Instead, he said he felt "disgust. Pure disgust."
Throughout the interview, Vick painted a picture of anguish. I was physically uncomfortable listening to him talk about the moment his cell door at Leavenworth was slammed shut for 18 months. "I knew the magnitude of the decisions that I made and the poor judgment … and what I allowed to happen to the animals," he said.
The main reason I am on board with Vick is that he was never in explanation mode. He never tried to distance himself from the violence and cruelty by claiming he was just the financier. "I could have put a stop to it," he said. "I could have shut the whole operation down."
Vick wasn't the only star. CBS Sports' Brown pulled no punches in his "60 Minutes" debut.
And kudos to Humane Society CEO Wayne Pacelle, whose reasonable -- and skeptical -- approach to Vick's partnership with the Humane Society offers a stark contrast to the extreme anti-Vick position assumed by the protest-happy People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
"If we just punish Mike indefinitely and don't pivot to this problem in the communities, where kids are victimizing these dogs and then going down a dead-end street themselves … we will not be doing our job." Pacelle said. "And if Mike disappoints us, the public is going to see that. So it's not going to reflect badly on me or the Humane Society. It's going to reflect badly on him."
Vick missed one opportunity Friday in Philadelphia, where reaction to his signing among Eagles fans was extremely negative. After thanking the organization, coach Andy Reid, quarterback Donovan McNabb(notes), and his mentor, Tony Dungy, Vick should have spoken directly to Eagles fans. He should have acknowledged their place among the league's most passionate and knowledgeable fans and told them that he understands their skepticism.
Then he could have asked for the chance to prove to them with his actions that he has changed. Just like he did on "60 Minutes".
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