Virginia Tech announced that it would induct Michael Vick — perhaps the greatest athlete to ever represent Blacksburg — into its athletic Hall of Fame in August. Vick was subsequently honored on national television in the Hokies’ home loss to Clemson University on Sept. 30.
Vick, who was sentenced to 23 months in prison in 2007 when it was found he facilitated a “cruel and inhumane” dog fighting ring, is obviously a controversial figure in Virginia Tech lore.
His induction has sparked mass hysteria among Hokie Nation — more than 82,000 people have signed a petition to rescind the honor.
In addition to his criminal background, detractors cite the fact Vick did not graduate the institution as another mark against his induction. Vick attended VT from 1998-2000 before moving on to the NFL without a degree.
Tech released a statement last week defending its decision.
“In considering Mr. Vick’s nomination to our sports Hall of Fame, the criminal activities in which he engaged, his subsequent conviction and time he served for his crime were considered, and it was informed by the remorse he has shown since that conviction, the work he is currently engaged in to advance animal welfare issues, as well as his efforts to help our current student athletes, based on lessons he’s learned in his own life, make positive choices as they begin their adult lives,” the statement reads.
The question of Vick’s place in Virginia Tech history prompts a deeper discussion about the very nature of student-athletes and their relationship with academia. One would think members of a university’s hall of fame reflect upon the character of said institution. Yet, that is certainly not the message the Hokies are sending here. Interestingly, their Hall of Fame website makes no claims to the contrary.
“The Virginia Tech Sports Hall of Fame was established in 1982 to honor and preserve the memory of athletes, coaches, administrators and staff members who have made outstanding contributions to athletics at the university,” the hokiessports.com/halloffame home page reads.
Michael Vick undoubtedly made an outstanding contribution to athletics at Virginia Tech. It would not be overindulgent to go so far as to say he and Frank Beamer together put Hokie football on the map.
The question of his induction, therefore, comes down to whether you believe it is the university’s prerogative to limit their preservation of athletic contributions to those originating from good people.
This feels idealistic and jaded. If the criterion for admittance is simply “outstanding contributions to athletics,” Vick’s should be the first and highest bust in Blacksburg.
The implications inherent in this decision making process, however, must be accepted to avoid hypocrisy. If this is Virginia Tech’s criterion for honoring its athletes, so be it. But don’t push the cliche’ assurance you’re fostering the young adulthoods of these student-athletes, because their performance is clearly more important to you than their character.
Let’s be honest with ourselves, people. Did any of us ever really believe these multi-million dollar programs care more about the human being they produce for society 20 years down the road than the player they produce on Saturday afternoon?
“College sports definitely don’t want to hear that,” said John Solomon, editorial director of Aspen Institute’s Sports and Society Program. “But when you have billion-dollar deals and multimillionaire coaches, you have these players only to go to make this stop in college to play football. Absolutely a degree is incredibly important, but it’s not always how the players do it.”
So if Tech feels Vick is too important to their history not to honor, that’s totally understandable. He is probably the most influential athlete to ever compete in Blacksburg.
Just be consistent. Don’t talk about his remorse, efforts to “advance animal welfare issues” or educate others based on his mistakes. Don’t put on the facade that this is what makes your athletes important to you because, with an animal abuser who didn’t finish his degree at the front of your athletics Hall of Fame, it’s just blatantly not the case.