Michael Vick was released from prison today. At the time Michael’s story first broke back in April of 2007, there was an aspect of his situation that caught my attention: the power of friends and the need for strong accountability. Who can forget the tragic tale of Michael Vick, one of the best running quarterbacks in the NFL.
At age 24, Vick was offered a ten-year, $100+ million dollar contract. His inspiring performances for the Atlanta Falcon’s propelled him to the top of the game. The eyes of the world were on him. But something went wrong and, virtually overnight, he found himself sitting in a federal prison. In Vick’s case, he gambled and lost big when he started running a dog fighting operation with the encouragement and applause of certain friends who may not have had his best interests at heart.
Imagine if he had been surrounded by people of greater character—men who would have had the courage to challenge him to take the high road rather than applaud and engage in the illegal activity of dog fighting. I believe there might have been a very different outcome to his story if he had the benefit of true accountability from his friends.
I think Michael Vick appears to have underestimated the negative effect that his inner circle of friends exerted on his life. Vick’s mentor, James “Poo” Johnson, an officer of the Boys and Girls Club back in Vick’s hometown, Vick had been told to avoid associating with bad company. Johnson said, “Michael is loyal to his friends, sometimes to a fault. Sometimes that can create extra baggage that you never anticipated.”
Ignoring the wisdom of his mentor, and unwilling to resist the dark path his friends were taking him down, Vick held onto unhealthy relationships from his past, and it changed everything. Everything. Consider what it cost him:
- He lost his freedom, at least for the last 18 months as he served time in a federal prison for his actions.
- He lost his reputation and brought shame to both the game and the city that embraced him.
- He lost his considerable financial stability. According to published reports, Vick will forfeit upwards of $142 million, including a $72 million dollar salary, $20 million in paid bonuses, and $50 million in endorsement income.
- He forfeited his ability to be a role model to his fans. He lost the privilege of doing what he did best; the very thing that he was uniquely gifted by God to do.
He may well lose the chance to ever play in the NFL again, as the NFL commissioner decides whether or not to allow him to return to the sport. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is weighing that decision now that Vick is out of jail. According to one poll taken after his sentencing, a majority of fans felt Vick shouldn’t be permitted to return to the NFL once he’s served his jail time.
Michael Vick had a big heart for the guys he grew up with, but failed to set boundaries to protect himself from evil influences. He failed to put into place those who would hold him to a higher personal standard of behavior. How different Vick’s life would have been if he had shown wisdom in his choice of friends.
In the case of Michael Vick, it’s easy for fans to say what he should have done. Playing the part of an armchair quarterback is easy where others are concerned. The real challenge for us is to ask, “Who or what guides my decision making? Who are the people that influence my actions?” I’m not suggesting that you dump your friends. But there are times when we shouldn’t embrace their advice. There’s a biblical principle at work here. King Solomon writes, there’s “A time to get and a time to lose; a time to keep and a time to cast away” (Eccl 3:6 KJV).
Which is why you and I would be wise to ask a number of questions about the friendships we keep. Are we holding on to friendships which may be personally destructive? Are there those whose advice is clearly not godly or wise? Or, do we surround ourselves with those who consistantly challenge us to do the right thing? Men and women who aren’t afraid to get in our face and speak the truth—even if it’s uncomfortable.
It’s easier to have “yes men” for friends; people who simply go along with whatever scheme or crazy idea that you and I might have. But a true friend will speak truth, God’s truth, even when it’s painful to hear. Proverb 27:17 puts it this way: “Iron sharpens iron; so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.”
I’m sure there are many lessons we could take away from the story of Michael Vick; surround yourself with good council and trusted accountability partners would be at the top of that list. For his sake and his future, regardless of whether he ever steps back on the turf again, I hope Michael finds a team of men who can do just that for him in the days ahead.