Editor’s Note: James A. Gagliano is a CNN law enforcement analyst and retired FBI supervisory special agent. He is also an adjunct assistant professor and doctoral candidate at St. John’s University in Queens, New York. Follow him on Twitter: @JamesAGagliano. The views expressed in this commentary are his. Read more opinion on CNN.
Since pardons are something of a topic du jour, Mr. President, I have a simple request. I’m fairly certain you’ve heard of former NFL star quarterback Michael Vick. We also all noticed the news reports that you just gifted a commutation for an alum of “The Celebrity Apprentice” who was accused of shakedowns involving a children’s hospital and pardoned a former police commissioner convicted for tax fraud and lying to the government. So please, sir, hear me out – I have a far more deserving candidate for your leniency consideration.
ESPN’s two-part 30 for 30 documentary entitled “Vick” aired recently. And to tell the complete story of the film’s 39-year-old protagonist, every second of its three-hour run time was required. Vick’s tale is one of against-long-odds achievement, meteoric ascension to the pinnacle of his profession and losing it all, while falling prey to hubris and his own cripplingly poor decision-making.
It is also a story of forgiveness, second acts and deserved redemption, Mr. President.
As a redshirt college freshman at Virginia Tech in 1999, he nearly singlehandedly won the national championship against Florida State, leaving some wondering whether Vick would be the quarterback of the future.
The NFL’s Atlanta Falcons, coming off a disappointing 4-12 season in 2000, traded up to the first spot in the 2001 draft, selecting Vick number one. Vick didn’t disappoint, bursting onto the scene, electrifying NFL audiences, and becoming the face of the franchise and, for many, of Atlanta.
As a long-suffering Falcons fan – having grown up in Atlanta during the 1970s and 1980s – I was thrilled to share my affinity for the team with my young son. His bedroom was a veritable Vick shrine, walls adorned with posters and No. 7 jerseys hanging in his closet. And in 2002, when Home Depot cofounder Arthur Blank purchased the team for $545 million, his leadership coupled with Vick’s weekly highlight reel performances ushered in a new era of fan excitement.
But Michael Vick wasn’t only an Atlanta Falcons star – he was also the unsuspecting main character in his own Greek tragedy. On April 25, 2007, arrived the shocking news of his possible complicity in a dog-fighting ring at one of his homes in Surry County, Virginia. Authorities inadvertently stumbled upon the illicit operation while conducting a drug investigation that involved one of Vick’s relatives.
As further details were revealed of the inhumane treatment and destruction of kenneled dogs at the Vick estate, public outcry against the quarterback reached a zenith. Protestors picketed Falcons facilities and PETA lobbied the NFL to banish him. But Vick, who in December of 2004 had signed a $130 million, 10-year deal, presumably making him in Blank’s words – “a Falcon for life” – initially refused to admit to any crimes.
He lied to the face of the team owner who had made him a millionaire. He even lied to his Mom.