Sometimes when you spend a lot of time immersed in a subject, you lose sight of how it looks to the rest of the world. It’s the forest and trees thing.
For reporters covering the Eagles – at least this one -- that’s the case with Mike Vick, who has won yet another unpopularity contest, being named in a survey as the most disliked athlete in America. (Also in the top 10: Plaxico Burress at three and Terrell Owens at 10, despite not even playing this year).
The results, released today by Forbes, show that Vick is well-known nationally – he has around the same level of recognition as Peyton Manning – but that casual fans overwhelmingly still don’t like him. That’s not new by any means, but it is a reminder of how Vick is viewed nationally after a season in which the quarterback, by my estimation, was treated by Philadelphia media and fans like any other big-name athlete: his play was constantly dissected and debated, but the arguments generally began and ended with what he did on the field.
This was a stark change from 2010, when Vick returned to national prominence and for a time was in the discussion for NFL MVP. That year was Vick’s first big step back onto the national stage since being released from prison after his sentence for dog-fighting, and there were heated reactions to just about anything written or said about him. Any story on this site, no matter how focused on football, would still lead to a vicious back-and-forth in the comments that would quickly turn to his dog-fighting conviction, arguments over punishment and forgiveness and, like clockwork, race-baiting.
This past season was different. There were still varied opinions on Vick – how responsible was he for his turnovers? How much blame did he deserve for the Eagles’ struggles? But these were the kind of arguments that surround nearly any quarterback on any disappointing team. While there were occasional reminders – at one Vick endorsement event in Philly one woman pointedly asked what he was doing to help dogs trained to fight – for the most part it seemed that Philadelphia decided the debate had been well flogged and just moved on. Vick was cordial, as always, with the media. Despite his star status he’s one of the better guys to talk to in the locker room, again, influencing the way he's seen by reporters, and aside from the day he signed his big new contract and truly seemed to have come full circle, I can’t remember very many questions about his “journey” or “coming back from where you were” or lessons learned in prison.
Many still disliked Vick, many still loved him, but the two sides seemed to realize that there was no convincing the others and left the arguments to the game.
(And, for football fans that seems to be the case overall. According to Forbes, 60 percent of “hardcore” NFL fans do like Vick). Maybe that’s because big football fans care more about his play than history. Maybe they’re more aware of his off-field work, which was constantly highlighted on pregame shows during 2010.
In either case, the survey is a reminder that even if the Vick arguments seem settled here – particularly among football fans -- and are now part of the background rather than in the forefront, his crime still resonates with many Americans.