There was a time in American sports when Michael Vick was the most hated athlete in the country. Being a Black quarterback always made him a lightning rod, but he became a true villain for most people when his dogfighting scandal came to light.
Fan hatred was so white-hot at the time that any player showing support for him would be caught in the crossfire. Roddy White, and a few other players on the Atlanta Falcons, learned that lesson the hard way.
Michael Vick’s fall wrecked his image, and the ambitions of the Falcons, for years
It’s rare for a player to reach either of the highs or the lows of a career that Michael Vick has. It’s even rarer for a player to experience both in the same career.
Vick wasn’t just a football player. He was a phenomenon. The league had never seen a player like him. He brought a level of athleticism and pure fun to a position that usually comes with a very narrow definition of success. His playing style was more like a comic book hero than any of his contemporaries.
Being selected by the Atlanta Falcons put him in the perfect place to become a superstar. Vick was a Black idol in a predominantly Black city. He was as entertaining as he was effective.
With him as the quarterback, the Falcons got to the postseason for the first time in four years made it to the NFC Championship Game two years later. He also set records for the most rushing yards from a QB in a game and became the first player at the position to run for more than 1,000 yards in a season.
The sky appeared to be the limit for him, but everything changed in the summer of 2007, when it was discovered that Vick was involved in a dogfighting ring that spanned several states.
He eventually admitted to financing, and actively participating in, the abuse and murder of dogs. Vick was sentenced to 23 months in prison, the NFL washed their hands of him, and all the good things he accomplished with his talent were swept away.
Roddy White got in big trouble for supporting Michael Vick
The fallout from Vick’s downfall also impacted his former teammates.
Vick’s sentence was made official on the morning of December 10, 2007. That same night, the Atlanta Falcons played a home game against the New Orleans Saints. Atlanta lost the game 34-14, but for one of their touchdowns, the celebration became an unwanted protest.
Roddy White scored on a 33-yard touchdown grab in the first quarter and commemorated the moment by lifting up his shirt, with some assistance from fellow receiver Joe Horn, to reveal a t-shirt with a simple message: Free Mike Vick.
If protests regarding important social causes didn’t go over well in the NFL, you can imagine how demonstrations supporting a convicted dogfighter went. White was one of five Falcons players to be fined for violating uniform regulations and “displaying an unauthorized personal message,” according to Chimes Newspaper. White, along with Alge Crumpler, DeAngelo Hall, Chris Houston, and Horn were all fined for their actions.
Crumpler, Hall and Houston all wore black eye strips with tributes to Vick written on them (Hall also taped a poster of Vick to the back of the Falcons’ bench) and Horn was punished for helping White with his shirt display.
This proved to be just a speed bump in White’s career. He spent his entire career with the Falcons, making it to four Pro Bowls, and earning a spot in their Ring of Honor.
Remarkable career renaissance
Once Vick got out of prison, he turned his life around to a degree that no one could’ve expected. He joined the Philadelphia Eagles after being released back into society in a move that was highly controversial at the time.
But the noise didn’t inhibit Vick at all. In fact, 2010 was the best year of his career. He made his fourth and final Pro Bowl and was also named the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year.
Vick’s resurgence wasn’t just about his play on the field. He showed so much contrition about his past mistakes that he flipped his reputation almost entirely, becoming more popular than ever.
After spending the last couple years as a backup for the Jets and the Steelers, Vick retired in 2017 as a member of the Atlanta Falcons. He did so in a joint ceremony alongside Roddy White, who retired in the same offseason, per ESPN. That scenario felt impossible just a few years beforehand.
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference