Since his release from prison, Michael Vick's rehabilitation has taken place slowly and steadily. He apologized for his dogfighting past and took up the cause of animal welfare. He has been welcomed back into the NFL and onto television sets.
But for many fans, the Pro Bowl evidently is a step too far. More than 400,000 people have signed a Change.org petition demanding that Vick be removed as an honorary captain of the Pro Bowl in late January. Another petition, with more than 200,000 signatures, demands the same thing and yet another, which has more than 80,000 signatures, urges sponsors to back out of the Pro Bowl until it drops Vick.
"Just saw this on Facebook and was absolutely disgusted," one poster, named Joanna Lind, wrote on the website after seeing the Pro Bowl announcement. "When is the NFL going to take any responsibility for the behavior of its current and former players? To honor a man who had zero regard for animals is unacceptable and I would like your help to make sure he is not honored at the 2020 NFL Pro Bowl."
Vick, the former Atlanta Falcons' star quarterback and No. 1 draft pick out of Virginia Tech, had one of the ugliest demises in the NFL, serving 18 months in a federal prison for participating in a dogfighting ring. He was suspended by the NFL and filed for bankruptcy, but was reinstated in 2009, with former Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid tasked with overseeing his reintroduction into the league. He also played for the New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers before retiring as a Falcon in 2017. Since then, Vick has worked with Reid's Kansas City Chiefs and is now an NFL analyst with Fox Sports.
Other honorary captains selected for the Pro Bowl, which will be played Jan. 26 at Orlando's Camping World Stadium, are Terrell Davis, Darrell Green and Bruce Smith. Honorary captains typically are involved in events leading up to the game and work with players preparing for it.
Vick has, over the years, worked to put his past behind him and has become something of an animal-rights activist, working with the Humane Society of the United States.
"I just try to make it right after going through what I went through, after what transpired," Vick said in 2015. "The best thing to do was make amends for what I did. I can't take it back. The only thing I can do is influence the masses of kids from going down the same road I went down. That's why I work with the Humane Society and affecting a lot of kids' lives and saving a lot of animals.
"We've had lot of a progress. We've been able to change some laws and do some great things that I'm very proud of. I never thought I'd be doing that."
As Falcons owner Arthur Blank put it when Vick retired as a Falcon, "Michael, like everybody on the face of the Earth . . . has made a mistake in his life. It starts with the person who is speaking now, but life is really all about learning from your mistakes, redemption, learn to be a better person, moving on and making a difference in the lives of other people."
Judging by the petition, not everyone is ready to move beyond Vick's past, despite his life and actions since leaving prison. But Vick has gotten support in other corners after the petitions gained steam.
"Michael Vick has paid his debt," Patriots tight end Benjamin Watson tweeted. "The names on this petition are unaware or more likely unconcerned with justice and truth."
NBC's Peter King urged the NFL to "stand firm" and not remove Vick. "You can question his seriousness about it all, but since stepping out of Leavenworth in 2009, he's lived an uneventful and repentant life off the field. He served his time, he coped with financial and career ruin, and he's tried to rehab his life, which is what you do in a free society when you've done something egregiously wrong," King wrote in his "Football Morning in America" column. "Vick is a great example of reforming oneself from something stupid and hurtful. Being reembraced by the NFL is a good thing. I'm a dog-lover of the first degree, and I'm 100% behind Vick."
Fox Sports and the NFL did not immediately respond to requests for comment.