Michael Vick is speaking out about the struggle to restore his right to vote after he pled guilty to felony charges back in 2007.
The legendary quarterback recently detailed his journey for an episode of a documentary miniseries produced by More Than a Vote, the voter registration group headed up by NBA superstar LeBron James.
“It’s not an easy process to have your voting rights restored or retained,” Vick says. “You just have to take the initiative and be proactive.”
Drafted first overall by the Falcons in 2000, Vick's career was upended by a 21-month prison term after he pled guilty to charges stemming from an illegal dogfighting ring he was running.
The Virginia Tech product later returned to the NFL after serving the prison sentence, re-establishing himself as a Pro Bowler while authoring one of the most compelling comeback stories in recent sports memory.
It was in those heady days that Vick says he realized he wasn't yet free of the legacy of his mistake.
"In 2011 some of my friends and family members went to vote, and I was kind of naive to what my voting rights were. I was planning on going, and I found out that because I had a felony on my record, that I couldn't vote.
"That was just one of the things that I did not know, you know -- was taken away from me once I was incarcerated and had a felony on my record."
Hidden fines, fees, restitutions and other costs are often one of the biggest obstacles to regaining the right to vote, according to Vick, which critics say amounts to a modern-day poll tax.
“Being blessed and having an opportunity to live a different life, it wasn’t a big concern for me as far as the finances to be able to pay fines,” Vick says. “Some of these fines are just thousands and thousands of dollars. Money that people don’t have or can’t generate. It’s unfortunate that if you don’t have it, you don’t get it.”
Voting rights activist Desmond Meade, who helped lead the successful 2018 push to restore voting rights in Florida for people convicted of felonies, appears throughout the episode.
Meade was released from prison in 2005 after serving time for a drug case, and has since earned his law degree. He said it's important to think of people -- of whom there are as many as 750,000 in the state of Florida alone -- as more than just "felons."
“Some people call them ‘formerly incarcerated people.’ In Florida we just say ‘returning citizens,’” Meade says. “If people can call you a felon, they can treat you differently. We deserve to be treated with dignity and respect and the best way you get it is by making your voice heard. And we can just change so much with it.”
Vick cited his poor childhood and focus on his athletic career for his lack of understanding of the issue as a younger person.
"Some of us grow up in a world where it's not like most," Vick says. "You know, you grow up in poverty, in the hood, in the ghetto -- and you just don't get the facts. I knew it's much bigger than what you see life as. I always wanted to become a professional football player, and I knew what it took. I had to go to college, and I had to get good grades in high school.
"That's all I ever knew. I didn't know anything about voting, and voting registration, and legislation. At a young age I would have loved to, because I know it would have made me a better person. Maybe I would have thought different or looked at the world different. … I’m not one of one, but I’m one of many.”
The episode concludes with Vick registering.