PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Michael Vick returned to the site of his gruesome dogfighting crimes, looked at an empty dog bowl left behind in a dingy cage and wondered how he ever could have risked fame, freedom and fortune for “Bad Newz Kennels.”
“This is hard to imagine myself doing this years ago, man,” Vick says, cameras rolling.
His visit to the property he once owned in Surry County, Va., where he trained pitbulls for vicious fights and helped drown or hang dogs that didn’t do well, is a teaser of what’s ahead in his docu-series “The Michael Vick Project.”
Vick candidly tells how he became entangled in a dogfighting ring that sent him to prison and temporarily halted his NFL career as part of a series that debuts next month on BET. Vick says the 10-part series that premieres Feb. 2 will show he’s a changed man after a tragic fall from stardom he says “was all my fault.”
“At times, it’s hard to talk about it, but for the most part, if you talk about it and let it all out, it kind of helps put the demons to rest,” Vick told The Associated Press on Thursday.
Vick served an 18-month prison sentence for operating a dogfighting ring. He returned to the NFL this season as a backup QB with the Philadelphia Eagles.
In the first episode, Vick openly discusses living a “double life” of running the operation at the same time he was making Pro Bowls and signing a 10-year, $130 million contract with the Atlanta Falcons. Vick explains in detail the childhood experiences he had with dogfighting and how the activity morphed from his NFL sideshow job to a bustling second career that spanned state lines.
“I really took to it,” Vick said on the show. “I was intrigued by what was going on. It kind of excited me and I gravitated to it.”
Vick told The AP that walking over the burial spots of some of the dogs killed as part of his dogfighting operation “cut me deeply” and was the moment when he “really realized all the wrong that I did.”
“I wanted to go out there and just totally put it all away and forget about it,” Vick said by phone. “I felt like once I did that, I’d be able to do that. For the most part, I did. Since I’ve been out there, it’s eased a lot off my brain as far as thinking about it.”
Vick said he’d never be able to completely forget the horrific acts he witnessed and committed. Returning to Virginia made Vick deeply consider a question that still nags at his conscience: Why?
“Why sacrifice so many animals and put them in vulnerable positions to be harmed and injured?” he told The AP. “It was pointless.”
The first episode does offer a glimpse, however, at answering that question. Vick said he saw his first dogfight as a 7-year-old. Vick’s brother, Marcus, tells the cameras that growing up “we never knew there was nothing wrong with it.”
Michael Vick said on Thursday that dogfighting was a part of black culture.
“When you grow up in the inner cities, when you grow up in the urban neighborhoods, that’s pretty much what you get,” Vick said. “You don’t have opportunities to do certain things at your own leisure. When you have down time, if you’re not playing football, basketball or baseball, then you’re looking for some activity to get into.”
Vick said he’s learned the last few years to deal with his heinous crimes and their repercussions.
“I had counseling sessions when I was about to be incarcerated,” he said Thursday. “It was therapeutic for me.”
Vick’s mother, sister, and Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer were among the people interviewed on the first episode. His fiancee, Kijafa Frank, says she pleaded with Vick to quit. Vick said when he was charged in 2007, he believed “money will get me out of this situation” and lawyers could make all the legal issues vanish.
Only months later, Vick surrendered to U.S. marshals.
“I cried all the way to the jail,” he said on BET.
Wearing a white button-down shirt and jeans, Vick appears at ease as he discusses how his dogfighting stable rapidly expanded and spiraled out of control. He wanted to end it, but never found the courage to say stop.
Vick now says he’s a new man. Vick, the former No. 1 overall pick, said the show chronicles the real story of his rise to the top, his precipitous fall, and path toward redemption. Vick is shown playing catch with his son, and laughing with his two daughters in a scene that softens the image of him as a dog-killing monster.
“I think people will see him in a different light, respect him in a different way,” producer James DuBose said. “I don’t say people are ever going to forget what he did or the mistake that he made. But we all, in my mind, deserve second chances if you own up to your mistake and help others not make that same mistake.”
Vick worked with the Humane Society of the United States this season and gave speeches at schools and churches about how wrong he was to ever get involved with dogfighting — especially with so much to lose.
Vick said he’s turned his life around and wants to show people that he can change. He knows he’ll always have his detractors — protests are included in the first episode and later ones — but he’s trying to make amends.
“It’s still a work in progress each and every day and it’s going to be that way the rest of my life,” he told The AP.
His football future is in limbo. He attempted only 13 passes and rushed 24 times in limited action with the Eagles season. The Eagles hold a $5.2 million option for next season and might not pick it up if Donovan McNabb and Kevin Kolb return. Vick, who said he started working out Wednesday, hasn’t thought much about next season.
“I’m excited about everything,” Vick said. “Whether I’m in Philly or Tampa Bay, it wouldn’t even matter.”