Yes, you read that correctly. The disgraced one-time NFL superstar serving prison time for funding an illegal dog-fighting ring is primed to do public-service ads for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals upon his release later this month. According to three people with knowledge of the matter, the proposed endorsement is part of a comprehensive PR scheme aimed at rehabilitating the quarterback’s image and gaining him readmission to the league that banned him from playing.
“I’m familiar with [the plan],” said Dan Shannon, director of youth outreach and campaigns for PETA. “We have been in discussions with Michael Vick, with his management team, about the possibility of him putting out a public-service announcement with PETA when he’s out of jail. We want him to discourage people from taking part in dog-fighting. I can do it until I’m blue in the face and it might not convince anybody. Michael Vick sure can. He can say, ‘Look, I did it, I was wrong, and it ruined my career.'”
Other image-changing moves
That’s not all Mr. Vick will do to try to rehabilitate his image. People with knowledge of his comeback plan said it will also include mea culpa TV interviews, PSAs and charitable donations to other animal-rights organisations (or perhaps the formation of his own foundation), along with the possibility of working with PETA.
But this might be the mother of all PR jobs. Mr. Vick’s obstacles are many: a hard-line NFL commissioner who wants to see “genuine remorse” before reinstating Mr. Vick to the league; individual franchises who might be wary of the backlash and potential damage to their brands from signing Mr. Vick; and an incredulous public that remains shocked by the story.
And what a grisly tale it is. Mr. Vick, who in 2004 signed a seven-year, $130 million contract with the Atlanta Falcons, funded the Bad Newz Kennels in Virginia, which participated in the fighting of pit bulls and also admitted to participating in the sometimes torturous deaths of dogs that underperformed, including death by drowning, hanging and electrocution. Mr. Vick is due to be released from federal prison on May 20 and will serve the remaining two months of his 23-month sentence under home confinement near Hampton, Va., where he will be working a 40-hour-a-week construction job.
Mr. Vick’s camp includes a multitude of PR and legal handlers. His Atlanta-based attorney, Daniel Meachum, did not return several requests for an interview. Mr. Vick’s Washington-based lawyer, William “Billy” Martin, declined to comment. It is not known if Mr. Vick’s team has hired a strategic-communications or crisis-management firm to handle the PR efforts. But PETA confirmed it has talked with his handlers.
Before doing a deal, however, PETA wants Mr. Vick to undergo a psychological evaluation for antisocial personality disorder. “We’re suspicious this may come from a place of simply wanting to repair his public image, rather than genuine remorse,” Mr. Shannon said. “He was dishonest all the way up the line until he finally had to admit to what he did, which is a hallmark of [antisocial personality disorder]. If he can’t tell the difference between right and wrong, we can’t get in bed with this guy. At this point, he hasn’t chosen to submit to an evaluation. We hope the NFL will require that evaluation as a precondition of reinstatement. The bottom line is: Everybody knows he’s going to apologise, go on Oprah and Larry King and say he did wrong, that he learned his lesson. But there’s no reason for anybody to take his word for that based on the pattern of dishonesty and the severity of cruelty he took part in.”
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