Four years ago, you would have been hard-pressed to find a bigger defender of Michael Vick's right to earn a living than me.
I didn't see a guy who was able to use his celebrity to avoid punishment. I saw a guy who had paid his debt to society, apologized and was trying to pick up the pieces.
At some point, we have to forgive.
But at no point should forgiving be mistaken for forgetting, which is why launching a book tour for an autobiography titled "Finally Free" was a really stupid idea.
I definitely don't think it's OK to threaten him as some have, forcing promoters to cancel the tour. But this recent wave of negative publicity is mostly a self-inflicted wound.
What's next, Rae Carruth's autobiography?
Vick either doesn't fully comprehend how people view the severity of the crimes he committed, or he's getting some really bad advice. Being back in the NFL, hearing the cheers, making the Pro Bowl in 2010 none of that erases the memory of dogs being hanged, electrocuted or drowned.
"Some of the grisly details in these filings shocked even me, and I'm a person who faces this stuff every day," John Goodwin, director of animal cruelty policy for The Humane Society, said back in 2007. "I was surprised to see that they were killing dogs by hanging them and one dog was killed by slamming it to the ground. Those are extremely violent methods of execution -- they're unnecessary and just sick."
People still view the author of "Finally Free" as sick.
So giving the book that title -- even in the context of serving 18 months in federal prison -- was a colossal miscue because it gives the impression that Vick's punishment was an unjustified obstacle that had to be overcome. The title gives the impression that it was something thrust upon him, something he's not responsible for. And based upon the testimony from the trial, nothing could be further from the truth (and I'm not even a dog person).
Vick and his handlers must accept that while the First Amendment guarantees the quarterback the right to write and talk about his journey, it doesn't insulate him from the criticism that will follow for doing so. Vick's handlers must always remember the cheers and new endorsements are in response to his play on the field, to him as a football player. Any project that requires society to respond to Vick, the man, needs to be better executed than "Finally Free."
So working with the Humane Society to stop dogfighting is a good thing. Getting a dog to teach his children how to love and respect animals was another, as was donating $200,000 for a new youth football field in Philadelphia.
Promoting a book that appears to be making money off his past transgressions, not so much.
"Despite warnings of planned protests, Vick had hoped to continue with the appearances as planned, bringing his story of redemption and second chance to major markets," read a statement from Worthy Publishing. "However, once the reported protests escalated into threats of violence against the retailers, Worthy Publishing, Vick and his family, decided to cancel the events."
It isn't right that people would go so far as to make threats against Vick; they should have showed up and debated him in person. It isn't fair that a guy who did his time is still begging for forgiveness. But he'll have a better shot at that forgiveness, at redemption, if he keeps in mind that many people will never, ever forget.
And nor should we, given what he participated in on his property in Virginia.