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Everyone should welcome Michael Vick back to football

This Sunday Michael Vick will be entirely free for the first time in 25 months. After serving 23 months in federal prison for his involvement in dog fighting and an additional two-game suspension handed down by Roger Goodell, Vick will return to football for the first time with no legal or league restrictions. It will be the first free step for a man who over the course of the past 10 years has experienced the most extreme highs and lows of many people.† Vick deserves his second chance.

With Donovan McNabb likely to miss Sundayís game with an injury and the inexperienced Kevin Kolb starting under center, it should not be a surprise that Michael Vick will find himself in the game early and often. Eaglesí head coach Andy Reid has put together extensive packages of plays designed specifically for Vick and will not hesitate to use the former Pro Bowler. All eyes will be watching as Vick returns to regular season football and sees his first football action as a free man.

I would like to take the opportunity not only to welcome Michael Vick back to the National Football League as a full-time employee, but also offer a little bit of information as to why you too should perhaps be a little more compassionate.

Over the past two years everyone has become at least aware of who Vick is, but I would like to point out a bit of detail separate from the lying, dog killing felon to which most of us have become accustomed.

Vick came from an impoverished background and only was able to find his way out of his public housing project through his athletic abilities and a football scholarship to Virginia Tech University. In just two seasons with the Hokies, Vick only lost one game which happened to be the national championship his freshman year of 1999.† Highly regarded as an exceptional athlete, Vick chose to leave Virginia Tech after his sophomore season because of the financial opportunity that awaited him in the NFL.

In 2001 the Atlanta Falcons took Vick with the first overall pick in the draft, making him not only their franchise quarterback, but also the first African-American quarterback selected that high in the NFL draft. Vick was thrust into the role of not only being the face of the Falconsí franchise, but also the hero of the African-American community, a success story for the entire population.

In his six-year NFL career Vick was selected three times to the Pro Bowl and earned millions of dollars in contracts and endorsements.† Vick was ranked 33rd† in Forbesí 2005 Top 100 Wealthiest Celebrities list, but in just two years he lost all of the fame and fortune to his own bad decisions. His annual salary in 2006 was estimated at $25.4 million. All of this would soon be gone.

In August of 2007 Vick pleaded guilty to federal dog fighting charges. After being sentenced to 23 months in federal prison it seemed that Vickís American dream had turned to a nightmare. In the span of five years, Vick had turned from one of the most recognizable and popular athletes in all of sports to a felon, dog murderer and public enemy.

The low of Vickís downward spiral came in July of 2008 when he filed for Chapter 11 bankrupcy as the result of several unpaid loans, debt to the Atlanta Falcons for lost wages amounting $7.5 million and the nearly $30,000 dollars he was spending each month to support his family while in prison.

With his reinstatement Vick has begun to take the right steps toward rebuilding his career and life. With the support of Tony Dungy, former head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, who mentored Vick throughout his stay in prison, Vick has convinced his boss, Goodell, that he has taken the necessary steps to get back on the right track.

Dungy, who is highly respected throughout the NFL as not only a great coach but also a great human being, has expressed Vickís desire to return to football, supported Vickís personal growth and insisted upon Vickís genuine remorse.

Though there is no doubt that Vick owes a lot to Dungy, it speaks volumes to Vickís improvement that such a highly respected and high-profile individual would support him so whole-heartedly.

Vick deserves this second chance not only because he has paid his debt to society but also because he has shown genuine remorse for his involvement in dog fighting. He has established a $1 million trust fund for the lifelong protection of dogs and has started to work both with the Humane Society and in the Philadelphia community to discourage peer pressure and eradicate dog fighting in America.

Vick has the opportunity to be a great spokesman on behalf of animal protection agencies and can do a lot of good in urban outreach, prevention and education when it comes to stopping the global issue of dog fighting. It is ultimately up to Vick to do what is right and continue his personal maturation process and his ongoing struggle to regain all that he has lost.

Regardless of your personal opinion of Vick, we are all human and all make mistakes. While few of us are convicted felons, all of us can agree that, while a second chance is never guaranteed, granting it is the right thing to do.

On Sunday we will all see a man who has gone through an enormous trial of self and character, who will take the field with only the hope of returning to normalcy and helping the Eagles to win games. I urge you to examine the situation from a more compassionate and humane perspective and consider the fact that if Vick has sufficiently paid his debt to the United States legal system and to the NFL, what more do you really want?

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