Former NFL quarterback Michael Vick has opened up about how the Lord turned his life around after he did a stint in prison for a conviction over dogfighting. Vick, who played with both the Atlanta Falcons and the Philadelphia Eagles, was speaking at the Liberty University convocation Monday morning.
In 2007, Vick’s NFL career appeared to be in tatters after he pled guilty to being involved in a dog fighting ring – he was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison. His career was seemingly over, and he’d basically tossed one of the most lucrative contracts in NFL history down the drain.
Despite not growing up in a Christian home, Vick was compelled by the word of God from a young age. At 12, he began reading the Bible on his own and even slept with it under his pillow. “I told myself, what can I do to be different,” Vick told the crowd. “I took a Bible and put the Bible under my pillow and I said ‘if I’m gonna start somewhere, I’m gonna start with God.'”
“I said to myself, ‘it’s not about being in Church, I can bring Church to me,'” Vick added.
Vick admitted that by the time he signed with the NFL following a remarkable few years with Virginia Tech, he had left his Christian faith behind. Despite his conviction, the star quarterback said that he was a devoted animal lover when he grew up. Caring for animals was the “was the right thing to do,” he said. He would bring home stray dogs and had many pets in his house. So what changed?
Well, when he was just 9-years-old, some teenage boys took him to a dogfight that was going on in the neighborhood. The young Vick said he was confused why no-one seemed to think this was wrong, and couldn’t believe that the police appeared to turn a blind eye to the practice. “I never saw people getting arrested for it, so it must not be as bad,” said Vick. “That’s irrational thinking. I know it now, but I wish I knew it then.”
“My perception changed because what I saw was not the same as what I heard,” he explained. He began to see dog fighting in terms not of right and wrong but of competition. “I fell into the trap of fighting dogs and thinking it was cool.”
“I lost sight of everything that I felt I needed in order to become the man that I wanted to become,” he told the crowd at Liberty’s convocation Monday morning. “I just left everybody behind.”
Over seventy dogs, mostly pit bull terriers, with some showing signs of injuries, were seized when police raided the “Bad Newz” Kennels, which was owned by Vick. Authorities also discovered several pieces of physical evidence during several searches of Vick’s 15-acre (61,000 m2) property.
“The first time they closed the prison door, I wasn’t comprehending what was happening in my life. So I jumped into bed and covered my head up for about 30 minutes. Right then and there I just summarized my life up until that point and asked ‘what’s missing’?”
“I opened the Bible back up. When I went to Psalm 23, it gave me strength. It empowered me.”
“All these things that were unimportant to me, all of a sudden became important again,” Vick recalled. But he had a long time to dwell on the scriptures.
“I had 465 days until I could get out and put that to work again,” he said.
Since leaving prison, Vick has become a passionate advocate for animal welfare and rights. He is determined to use his past experience to do some good and protect the creatures he once abused. “Animal welfare is so important,” Vick declared. “People don’t understand it, but I’m an animal lover. My heart and my passion was there for the animal world..
He understands that he will likely be remembered for his past crimes, but does not want to be defined by the person he used to be. “Things I’ve done to help change laws and things I’ve done in animal welfare if that’s not enough I don’t know what else to do,” he said.
Vick revealed his favorite Bible passage to those assembled at the convocation. He says it led him deeper into a relationship with God as he sat in his federal prison cell. The passage? Psalm 23:
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”
“The picture drawn in Psalm 23 is that the way we, as human beings, relate to helpless creatures dependent upon us can teach us a great deal about our dependence upon God. It’s a picture of human humility in the face of our helplessness, the very opposite of the arrogance, Vick said.
Vick concluded his talk by reading the psalm to the 10,000 students seated in the athletics auditorium, after which he declared, “Every time I read it, it took on new meaning. Every time I read it, I believed it.”