Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick was greeted with cheers and applause as he spoke to dozens of 9th graders at Nueva Esperanza Academy in Hunting Park Tuesday about “doing the right thing.”
The mid-morning visit was part of Vick’s commitment to "be a part of the solution,” after he was convicted of dogfighting. He urged kids to resist the temptation to follow the crowd and make the right choices.
“At some point I got side tracked and started listening to my friends, started doing things that were very unethical for me, things that were not right,” he told the students. “We have to be leaders and not followers.”
During what he called his “testimony,” Vick encouraged students to go to college and reach for their dreams as well as the costs of making bad choices. The speech comes on the same day that President Barack Obama gave a similar charge to students across the nation.
“Those 18 months in prison were the toughest time in my life. Being away from my family, from my kids, who I adore and being away from the game of football for doing something so foolish,” he said.
Vick was joined by U.S. Humane Society president Wayne Pacelle. Pacelle, who called himself Vick’s toughest critic, has worked with pro-football player for the last three months to reach at-risk youth and address the problem of dogfighting in America. Vick has agreed to speak at two events nationwide every month indefinitely.
Vick was sent to prison for his role in operating a dogfighting ring. He was released from federal custody July 20 after serving 18 months of a 23 month sentence.
He made a triumphant return to the NFL after the Eagles signed him a month later. Some Eagles fans and animal welfare groups have criticized the team, saying Vick sets a bad example.
The Humane Society said when Vick gave a similar speech in Chicago last month, they saw a surge in people signing up to help their anti-dogfighting campaign. Time will tell if Vick's message resonated with students.