When does image rehabilitation equal endorsement contracts?

Michael Vick is redefining himself and the concept of athlete as role model.

Michael Vick is redefining himself and the concept of athlete as role model.

Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback, is in the midst of an amazing run, rewriting NFL record books, making a strong case for his team as SuperBowl contender, but also testing every fan’s personal standard for forgiveness. Last Sunday, my pastor, with his tongue-firmly-in-cheek, gave a sermon noting that it is a lot easier to forgive Michael Vick when he is winning.
The Vick saga is an amazing arc of highs, lows, and now highs again. Ironically, Vick seems to trigger a visceral reaction, even now, among a significant portion of the population, those who own and love dogs. Animal cruelty is an especially heinous crime and one that is hard for people to fathom. Ironically, those on the long list of athletes who mistreat women are judged less harshly over time.
But Michael Vick was not alone in his transgressions. It was an unholy mess of family and friends running a seedy sports betting business built around dog fighting, to include dog torturing and dog killing. However, Vick was substantially and personally involved enough to be found guilty, stripped of his lucrative NFL contract and career, and sent to prison. Having done hard time, last year, he was given something most of us never get — a well defined second chance at the brass ring. To Vick’s credit, he has largely made the most of that opportunity, and in a way that challenges people to rethink how they judge him specifically, and others in general.
Vick has raised his athleticism and QB skills to an incredible level. He has been generous toward spreading offensive opportunities among his teammates. He has also been gracious in recent interviews. There hasn’t been a hint of vindictiveness toward detractors. He seems to exhibit a quality all of us claim to value, but its appearance is so rare that we seldom know how to react to it. Vick understands personal accountability. He knows that he was ultimately responsible for his own downfall and he went to prison for it. Even after paying that price, he does not appear to be embittered by the experience. Instead, he has been motivated to become a better person and (gasp) a role model. Today, he makes time to speak to students and others about his experience and why animal cruelty is so wrong.
Although I am an Eagles fan, I would love to see Vick continue his amazing personal turnaround even if he were helming the Cowboys (blasphemy). What a powerful message to send to people of all ages. That we are all human, capable of horrendous mistakes, but also of turning things around by working hard and changing course.
That brings me to my original premise, which is the tipping point at which personal redemption adds up to regained advertising endorsement contracts. My pastor and pigskinlovinglady.com reveal that I am late to the party on this subject. However, I would also like to suggest a seemingly outrageous endorsement op — Michael Vick and any major dog food company. It would be an instant buzz generator (fiercely argued about on both sides). Alpo, once long and successfully associated with Lorne Greene because of his Bonanza popularity, could tell a different story of image and reality with Michael Vick as endorser. PetSmart could show how smart they are at leveraging media moments by signing a controversial spokesperson. That’s quite a chance for big corporations to take, but Michael Vick could sweeten the deal, by donating his earnings from the contract to the SPCA. Good things can come out of even the worst of circumstances. You just have to work hard to make them happen.

Update: Michael Vick has his first endorsement deal and it’s not dog food!

Update 2: This is what I meant by Vick provoking visceral reactions. Here is a well-stated opposing opinion from one of Newton Associates’s friends, Lonny Strum, an experienced consultant, a knowledgeable sports fan, and a customer (former) of the car dealership that has Michael Vick at the center of its new ad campaign. It underscores the risk of nearly every celebrity endorsement deal and why Vick is riskier than most. This is why nearly everything Vick does of this nature needs to be balanced with a charitable component.

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