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Nike bets big on The Michael Vick Experience

New endorsement deal signals troubled quarterback's image transition from PR pariah back to franchise player.

It looks like the very public rehabilitation of Michael Vick’s image is complete, four years after it went to the… uh, dogs.

Back in 2007 he was sentenced to federal prison on dog-fighting charges, suspended from the NFL and dropped by Nike. A real hat-trick of a PR #FAIL. Vick’s road back started with a return to the NFL in 2009 after serving a 20-month prison stint, led to being named the league’s 2010 Comeback Player of the Year, and then signing an estimated $20 million contract extension with the Philadelphia Eagles this past March. It culminated last Friday when he was welcomed back into the Nike family with a brand new endorsement deal.

It wasn’t long ago that Vick was persona non grata as both an athlete and marketing tool. Sure, pro athletes get in trouble all the time—drugs, guns, booze, gambling, philandering—but this was different. This was hurting dogs. If ever a consensus on what constitutes unacceptable behaviour existed, animal cruelty would surely sit near the top of the list. So when the then-Atlanta Falcons QB admitted his role in a dog-fighting ring, Vick got much more than a prison sentence. The fan and media reaction couldn’t have gotten much worse if he had punted a puppy on live TV.

There were rumblings of a new Nike deal when Vick first jogged back on to an NFL field, but Nike was still very much keeping him at arm’s length. Then Vick started playing really, really well. Last season completed his on-field transition from PR question mark and back-up QB to the Eagles’ franchise player.

No word on how much Vick’s new Nike deal is worth, but estimates peg it at least as high as his $2 million deal from back in 2007. Two years after his return to the NFL, the Swoosh is betting that football fans’ appetite for redemption is a lot stronger than their distaste for (and long-term memory of) dog torture.