Wiedmer: Let's see more from Pearl, Vick

Wiedmer: Let's see more from Pearl, Vick

August 31st, 2011 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Other than the fact that they both pretty much blew up their athletic careers without much assistance, the rise and fall of Bruce Pearl and Michael Vick wouldn't appear to have much in common.

For starters, Pearl is a coach, Vick a player. For seconds, while Pearl took literally decades to work his way from Division II to mid-level Division I to a brief stay at No. 1 at Tennessee, Vick was a No. 1 overall draft pick out of Virginia Tech who eventually signed a $130 million contract with the Atlanta Falcons.

Beyond that, even their career suicide decisions couldn't be more different. Pearl lost his UT gig and suffered a three-year show-cause penalty by the NCAA for inexplicably lying about minor rules violations.

Vick, on the other hand, was involved in vicious murders of underperforming canines in his illegal dogfighting operation, actions of unthinkable cruelty that earned him 19 months in prison at the apparent prime of his career.

But as the first 48 hours of this week have taught us, there are indeed second acts in American lives, despite novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald's famous line to the contrary.

Having taken the Philadelphia Eagles to the playoffs a year ago, a little more than a year out of prison, Vick just agreed to a $100 million contract, of which $40 million apparently is guaranteed.

Then there's Pearl, who weighed a $500,000 offer to coach the Texas Legends, the Dallas Mavericks' D-League franchise, but has decided to join the H.T. Hackney Co. He will be vice president of marketing for the Knoxville-based wholesale grocery company.

No word yet if a photo of Pearl, his bare chest painted orange, will decorate the sides of the Hackney trucks.

Yet the very fact that Pearl will start his position Thursday goes to his savvy in recognizing that coaching in the D-League -- especially with an NBA lockout in full force -- is something akin to entering the witness protection program.

By staying in Knoxville with his second wife, Brandy -- a Knoxville-area native -- and his four children, two of whom are still in high school, he can comfortably wait on a future college job while possibly moonlighting with some television work.

After all, America loves a reformed sinner and Pearl can sell regret and redemption, right down to the watery eyes, better than anyone since Richard Nixon delivered his "Checkers" speech.

"I really thought that was what I was going to do," Pearl said of the D-League offer. "But I couldn't leave my kids."

He also told ESPN, "I hope that when you look at the last 33 years of my life you can say basketball was very good to me and in some way I was good to college basketball. I'll also try to lead through the adversity and what not to do and how not to handle an NCAA investigation, and it obviously cost me dearly."

Of course, a more combative Pearl said during a barbecue at his home last Thursday that dripped with irony, if not downright sarcasm, given that it was his barbecue for underage recruits that began his problems: "I believe I should have been given more credit for coming forward and telling the truth [six weeks after lying to NCAA investigators]."

So is he really contrite or really smooth at marketing his rehabilitation? Especially since he was previously charged with the rules violation at Wisconsin-Milwaukee that he later lied about committing a second time at UT?

As for Vick, at no time in the history of American sports has an athlete signed a $130 million contract with one franchise, gone off to prison for 19 months, then worked his way back to ink a $100 million deal with a different team.

If nothing else, Vick should be praised to the clouds for his ability to rise from the ashes.

But is he a truly changed man, or a man who has learned to change his tune before the cameras?

Speaking before Congress a few weeks ago concerning the presence of children at dogfighting events, Vick sounded sincere when he said, "A child should be doing so much more in his life. Help us to reach out to these kids before they go down the wrong path. It's up to parents to take responsibility and make sure it doesn't happen."

And it is. At least it should be. And no one should find a microbe of fault with Vick's words or deeds regarding dogfighting since he left prison.

But having shockingly earned the NFL's Ed Block Courage Award last season -- apparently for toughing it out in prison -- Vick whined, "I've had to overcome a lot. ... You ask certain people to walk in my shoes, they probably couldn't do it. Probably 95 percent of the people in this world -- because nobody had to endure what I've been through, situations I've been put in, situations I've placed myself in, decisions that I've made -- whether they were good or bad."

And maybe he's right. But narcissism isn't a sign of redemption. Nor is later telling the truth about your earlier lies. Actions are what redeem a man, and there hasn't been enough time for either Pearl or Vick to accumulate enough of those to back up their well-chosen words.