What do professional athletes do when they’re no longer professional athletes?
Some athletes’ ‘post-career career’ is spent as a member of the media, from local radio to national television. Others began planning the second phase of their lives during their playing days, investing in various ventures and businesses. Others, still, struggle with the transition, and face numerous challenges to adjust to a life outside the limelight. And yet others focus their time on giving back to the sport that gave them so much.
Officially retiring in February of this year, Michael Vick has dedicated himself to that last category. During his playing days, there were few athletes who was as much in the eye of the media as Vick. His story of rise, fall and, ultimately, redemption, played out in newspapers, television screens, talk radio and the internet. Now that his playing days are over, Vick has turned to directly engaging the next generation of athletes through the V7 Elite Playmakers Showcase Series, not only to help them on the field but more importantly off the field, to guide and mentor them.
RealSport were invited to the first event in the Showcase Series in Nashville Tennessee to see Vick’s work first hand, and to sit down with Michael himself about his transition to that ‘post-career career.’
“It’s all about giving back”
“Things have been pretty smooth,” Vick told us, “you know, life goes on. You have to find ways to continue to find excitement, and I do by continuing to stay connected to the game of football.”
His connection comes most obviously in the hands-on work he is doing through V7 Elite Playmakers. Working with both middle schoolers and high schoolers, the Showcase Series is a series of one-day camps being held across the US, from Miami to LA and many stops in between. Top performers at each stop in the Showcase Series will be invited to take part in the V7 Elite Playmakers All-American Game.
It’s not a new process to Vick – he proudly points out that participants in his camps from five and six years ago are now beginning to make it to the NFL, and that’s another way that he keeps his connection to football.
Of course, back when he held those earlier camps, he was also still an active player. Now, he says “at this point in my life, it’s all about giving back. Who knows if we’ll find the next Michael Vick, or the next Adrian Peterson or Drew Brees? But we have to start somewhere, and I think this is a platform for kids to dream, to get an opportunity to be around professional athletes who have left a mark on the game, and know what it takes to find that certain level of success.”
Finding that certain level of success isn’t purely about talent, and that’s a lesson Vick is keen to impart to the event’s participants. “It’s not about being the best player on the field. So many kids have an opportunity to go places and do great things, but you ask them the big question – what’s your GPA? – and they can’t be honest and truthful with you. I think being the best student that you can be first and foremost, allows you to clear your mind and walk the walk of playing football. I want them to better students than they are football players.”
Vick is more than aware that being a professional athlete means having to bear the weight of responsibility for being a role model. “You set a precedent for the next generation of athletes to come,” Vick told us, “that’s a platform that’s been followed for years, from NFL players who are active in their communities, that are active within the NFL in terms of charities. As we get into the NFL, we are taught these programmes exist, and you realize those programmes are affecting other people’s lives, kids, families, and you get involved. So yeah, we are role models because we have a platform to be.”
Arguably no NFL player has been more actively using the platform of a pro athlete than Colin Kaepernick, not just in his protests that were so heavily scrutinized in the media, but also in his efforts to bring emergency relief to famine-stricken Somalia. We asked Vick how he felt about Kaepernick’s activism:
“I think what Colin Kaepernick did was very courageous. There were people that accepted it, there were some people that didn’t. I think in life you’re always gonna have people that have differences in regards to decision making. When it comes to politics, sometimes you gotta be careful – but at the same time, you’ve got to stand up for what you believe in, and that was just him standing up for what he believes in. I thought it was very courageous of him to do that.”
Our conversation turned to Vick’s playing days. A four-time Pro Bowler and holder of numerous NFL records, Vick is well-aware of his place in league history from an on-field perspective. “I think my legacy as a player is one that revolutionized and changed the position of quarterback – the way we look at it, the way it’s played, the way it is accepted now. It was through a lot of hard work and grit. It wasn’t the norm for people to play the way that I played, and I made a breakthrough. Now it’s extended all across the world.”
We asked Vick if there were any goals as a player that he didn’t get to achieve, and his answer was somewhat surprising: “Obviously you want to win the Super Bowl, you want to put that ring on your finger. But as a young kid, I only dreamed of making it to the NFL – I never dreamed of winning a Super Bowl. I think if I would have dreamt that dream, then I would have had that ring. It was only once I got there that I had to really figure out what was my next set of goals, what was most important. But you can’t be the only one on that mission, everybody has to be on that mission.”
As he brought up Super Bowls, we had to ask Vick about his thoughts on Super Bowl LI, where his former team the Atlanta Falcons came achingly close to victory before collapsing in historic fashion. “Man, I was hurt about that Super Bowl,” Vick sighed, “it was like one of those Super Bowls that you just want to forget. It happened so fast, still to this day nobody knows what really happened, it just happened.”
Finally, we asked Michael which players around the league he looks out for on Sundays: “Right now, Derek Carr from the Raiders. I think he is one of the best emerging young quarterbacks. Jameis Winston – I’m a big fan of Jameis. He’s exploding, he’s had two back to back good years and he’s still going through that learning process. And then Ezekiel Elliott, I really like what he can do. And Dak Prescott, Jesus, there’s a whole bunch of them! There’s a lot of good work out there, some good football players in the league right now, being role models and representing the National Football League.”
The next event in the V7 Elite Playmakers Showcase Series takes place in Dallas on May 21st. For more information, visit http://www.v7eliteplaymakers.com.
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