Michael Vick helps clean up Riley Cooper's mess

Only one good thing came out of Riley Cooper's hateful words:

Michael Vick's healing words.

The Eagles quarterback forgave Cooper only hours after his public apology for using a racial slur at a Kenny Chesney concert in Philadelphia this June. Vick left no room for misinterpretation at a time when subtlety would have been seen as veiled anger:

"As a team we understood because we all make mistakes in life and we all do and say things that maybe we do mean and maybe we don't mean," Vick said Wednesday. "But as a teammate I forgave him. We understand the magnitude of the situation. We understand a lot of people may be hurt and offended, but I know Riley Cooper. I know him as a man. I've been with him for the last three years and I know what type of person he is. That's what makes it easy, and at the same time, hard to understand. But easy to forgive him."

What Cooper said can and still may create a huge rift in a locker room, and in the community. It may be "easy to forgive" for some, but certainly not for others. Vick's own brother, Marcus, took to Twitter to call for a bounty on Cooper's head, offering money to the first defender who lays him out in a game. Let's face it: A lot of people want to see that happen.

Yet Michael Vick shushed his own brother, cautioning him against showing his own "ignorance."

"I don't agree with what my brother is saying," he said. "Riley is still my teammate and he just stood in front of us and apologized for what he said. Somewhere deep down you've got to find some level of respect for that."

At the end of another upsetting summer for the NFL, in which both players and coaches embarrassed themselves off the field, it's time to celebrate a redemption story. Michael Vick, once among the most despised athletes in sports after being convicted as part of a sick dogfighting ring, is now a mature leader of a major pro franchise. The name on the back of his jersey is no longer just a four-letter word.

Whether he can be a winning quarterback in Philadelphia is a debate for next month. The focus for now should be on how Vick served his punishment, sought out help from men like Tony Dungy, found a new start with a new team, and grew into a place where teammates look to him for guidance. Even a jobs program in a rough part of Cincinnati used Vick as a positive example for those who have made mistakes in their lives. Nothing can undo the pain Vick inflicted on those dogs, but his personal growth since then is notable, bordering on remarkable.

Vick didn't show off when he won games in Philly, and he didn't sulk when Nick Foles took his starter's job last season. There have been no outbursts, no middle fingers thrust at fans. The only headlines Vick has made since his dogfighting conviction have been football headlines. And now this headline.

Nobody would have blamed Vick for being angry or silent on this issue. What Cooper said was disgusting and an affront to African-Americans (and others). Marcus Vick had a reaction that many would likely have. Michael Vick's reaction was nobler. It was based not in the heat of the moment but the health of the team in the long-term.

And it was based in religion. A lot of fans and media don't like conflating religion and sports, but here it's relevant and important. Vick seems to have found a new strength in Christianity since coming out of jail, and that strength was reflected in his comments Wednesday. What Vick said was mirrored by the remarks made by another African-American on the team, Jason Avant. The wide receiver is deeply religious, and he reached out to Vick immediately when the quarterback joined the team three years ago.

Avant did the same for Cooper.

"I still sat next to him today," he said of Cooper, "to let him know I'm there for him."

It's not like the Eagles need Cooper. He's not Desean Jackson; he's a role player with 46 receptions in three seasons. So what Vick said is not likely based in spin or self-serving. It's not posturing; it's leading.

And in a way, it's paying it forward.

Vick sought forgiveness in that same locker room four years ago. He needed people like Avant to embrace him even though what he did doesn't deserve any understanding. Vick must have heard Cooper's apology and seen a trace of himself. At some point, when you've done wrong, you have to admit it and hope to get better.

The best outcome for No. 14 is the kind of growth we've seen from No. 7. What's becoming true now is something that was unfathomable before: Michael Vick has set a positive example.

Related coverage on Yahoo! Sports:
Riley Cooper's racial slur merits more than a fine from Eagles
Country music star Kenny Chesney is no fan of Riley Cooper
Eagles to seek 'outside assistance' for Riley Cooper