About the only sure thing in Michael Vick's life right now is that he's going to prison.
Lucky for him, it will be a federal prison. Not exactly a country club, but most likely the kind of place where he can get three squares a day, and perhaps a job in the prison laundry.
If he's really lucky, there will be a field where he and his fellow inmates can toss the pigskin around.
There are worse lives to lead. The dogs in the Bad Newz Kennels certainly lived them.
And there will come a time in the not so distant future when Vick will walk out of the prison gates a free man, ready to resume at least part of the life that he left behind.
The question then becomes, what will await him?
In terms of marketability he's done. Finished. Through. No company would risk being associated with a dog killer, and that's just what Vick will be the minute he formally pleads guilty in his dogfighting case.
As far as a future in football, the best you can say is that he's still young. Assuming he gets the sentence of a year or two that most expect, he'll be out before he's 30, an age where quarterbacks are usually coming into their own.
But commissioner Roger Goodell has already accused Vick of lying to him, and he holds the key to the league. Goodell may never let Vick back in, but if he relents there may be a general manager somewhere so desperate to keep his job that he would take a chance.
The odds, though, don't favor a comeback. History hasn't proven kind to athletes who invite disgrace upon themselves, with rare exceptions such as Kobe Bryant and Ray Lewis.
Here are just a few who sinned and never recovered, without a mention of O.J. Simpson (who was an actor by the time he got in trouble) in the group:
- Mike Tyson: Tyson actually had a comeback, and a lucrative one at that, after serving three years in prison for sexual assault. But he had millions of fans who didn't believe he was guilty, a support group that won't be there for Vick. Now he's the poster child for athletes gone bad, with just one used BMW to show for his $300 million in purses and facing up to seven more years in prison on drug charges.
- Maurice Clarett: Clarett capped his freshman season at Ohio State by rushing for the winning touchdown in the national championship game. He never played again and now occupies a cell in the Toledo Correctional Institution, where he is serving seven years on robbery and gun charges.
- Art Schlichter: Another OSU standout, he was the fourth pick in the 1982 NFL draft and figured to soon be the starter for the Baltimore Colts. But a bad gambling habit got him in trouble, and he would eventually serve 10 years in more than 40 prisons and jails for conning people out of money. Free now, he lives with his mother and speaks to groups about the evils of gambling.
- Ben Johnson: No one was faster than Johnson, who lowered his own world record with a 9.79 in the 100 meters in the 1988 Olympics. And no one fell faster. Johnson was stripped of his gold medal two days later after testing positive for steroids, setting off a national crisis in Canada. He was later banned from track for life after another failed test, and a Canadian sports minister called him a national disgrace.
- Denny McClain: McClain won 31 games for the Detroit Tigers in 1968, but two years later was suspended from baseball for bookmaking activities. He later served two different prison terms for drug trafficking and embezzlement charges and was last seen hawking his autobiography, ``I Told You I Wasn't Perfect.''
The list goes on, but you get the idea.
Bryant and Lewis managed to right their careers, but they are the exceptions. Pete Rose signs autographs in a casino mall to make a living, the government still isn't done with collecting back taxes from Darryl Strawberry, and Marion Jones is not only out of work after being linked to steroids, but reportedly is broke and heavily in debt.
And what's the last good thing you heard about Tonya Harding?
Unfortunately for Vick, the American public doesn't have much patience with tarnished heroes. Even more unfortunate for Vick is that, judging by the 75 million dogs in the United States, a lot of people love dogs as much as they do football.
It's hard, in fact, to come up with a scenario that ends well. Vick has already lost all his lucrative endorsements, and the Falcons will no doubt go after some of the $44 million in guaranteed money in his latest contract. He'll be an ex-con when he gets out, and any attempt he makes at making amends will be met vociferously by animal rights activists who will remind everyone just how he and his friends used to kill puppies.
About the only thing Vick can do is to come up with a real apology for his actions. He will need to speak from the heart about how wrong what he did really was.
Perhaps the time he'll spend in a lonely jail cell will help him do just that. His few remaining supporters can only hope.
Because without some genuine remorse, he has no chance at all.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlbergap.org

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