NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Michael Vick looked out at the assembled high school students, some of whom were football players, many of whom come from a background similar to his, and he asked them to calm down.
Every mention of his football career brought cheers. He didn’t come to talk about football.
“I want to tell the truth,” the Eagles quarterback said today, “because these kids deserve the truth. I don’t hold back, because when you hold back, that’s when you have slip-ups . . . I want to bear down on the message.”
Vick’s off-day began with a 5 a.m. wake-up and a 6 a.m train up the Northeast Corridor. He spoke at two high schools in New Haven, the kind of urban area where it is feared “street dogfighting” has grown in scope.
“Don’t let your environment shape and mold you,” Vick told the students at Wilbur Cross High. “Go out and be the best ambassadors to your community that you can be.”
Vick was introduced by Wayne Pacelle, chief executive officer of the Humane Society of the United States. They have become partners in trying to right the wrong of animal fighting. As Vick was nearing the end of his time in federal prison, he contacted Pacelle and offered his time.
“And in the year-and-a-half I’ve known Mike, he has never turned me down once,” Pacelle said.
Vick told students of his experiences with dogfighting, of falling in love with the pit bulls that men would walk past the barber shop in his hometown, of falling into the underground world of dogfighting and landing, ultimately, in prison.
“I heard God say to me, ‘It’s wrong, what you’re doing to these dogs, and I’m going to punish you for it’ ” Vick told the students. “Four days later, I was indicted.”
Students asked about getting his fame back and rehabilitating his image. Vick said he has been “scrutinized and ridiculed” and “I deserved every word of it.”
Vick’s talks to schools and youth groups around the country have generally been unpublicized, but the Humane Society let it be known he would be in New Haven, Pacelle’s hometown, and made him available to local and national media. Vick’s return to the NFL stardom with the Eagles can only help to amplify the message.
“I know that there are people who will never forgive me,” Vick said, “and I understand that. What I did was inhumane. I can’t change people’s minds, I can’t change that — if I could, I would. All I can do is what I am doing, to try to help more animals than I hurt, to try to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem.”
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