Emily Mendell

is a freelance writer in Wallingford and cofounder of www.mothersofbrothers.com

The football jersey appeared at the bottom of a hand-me-down bag of clothes we received from a friend in late 2007. It was in mint condition and would have fit my older boy perfectly. But as I unfolded the red material, I knew I wouldn't permit either of my sons to wear this shirt. It bore the name and number of the Atlanta Falcons' disgraced quarterback, Michael Vick.

I moved it to the pile for Goodwill, but my husband had other ideas. He knotted it in the middle, and called for our puppy to come play with her new chew toy. We were all pleased with his burst of ingenuity, especially my boys, who were told of Vick's crimes as the pup gnawed relentlessly at the shirt. It was a welcome opportunity to teach our sons about kindness to animals and enact a little family-room justice.

As Vick served his 21 months in prison, so too did his jersey, with our dog chomping on No. 7 throughout autumn and winter. But like most stories and dog toys, it was eventually forgotten. We moved on - until 2009 when Vick was released, the Eagles signed him to a one-year contract, and parents throughout the area let out a collective groan. Thanks, Jeff Lurie. How do we explain this one to our kids?

Mom, isn't that the guy who . . .?

Yup!

And wasn't that his red jersey we . . .?

Yup!

So why did WE have to hire him?

Because everyone deserves a second chance.

But I was skeptical. Vick seemed uncomfortable in his initial press junkets and appearances before schoolchildren. Yet I held my tongue, not engaging in any anti-Vick banter. And he wasn't playing much. My fair-weather fans at home hardly noticed him, and I preferred to keep it that way. Still, I wondered, what had Lurie been thinking?

Of course, Vick is low-profile no more. This season we found ourselves constantly leaping off our family-room couch, cheering as our "new" quarterback scrambled, passed, and scored for our Eagles. And in the face of lesser performances such as the one Tuesday night, sympathy came surprisingly easy. As the team enters the playoffs, we have found an unlikely hero.

Had I not realized the irony myself, there were plenty of people pointing out that we were rooting for a man we had previously condemned. I soon became weary of hearing about our dog-killer quarterback. I began to think that these people were just as much sore losers as they were animal lovers. And by December I was responding with the same words I used with my boys, who wanted to know if it was OK to support Vick:

We must not only believe in redemption, we must participate.

The alternative to forgiving Michael Vick is not forgiving him, which runs counter to our justice system and my own moral compass. He served his time, made apologies, and has set forth on a better path. As a parent, I would hope the universe would offer a second chance to my children if they ever faltered. The greater crime would be turning our backs on someone who could, with the right support, contribute to society in meaningful ways.

By all accounts, Vick still has a bumpy road to travel. He is loaded with debt, faces the harshest of critics, and participates in a sport that is fraught with the constant threat of career-ending injuries. Life won't be easy for him on or off the field. But one thing is clear: Vick's personal victory over the demons that once controlled him has the chance to dwarf any athletic accomplishments he will ever achieve.

For those who accuse Philly fans of forgiving Vick simply because he is winning games, I say this: Victories don't make him any more worthy of salvation. Rather, victories - and even defeats - shine a brighter light on this young man, giving him greater opportunity to publicly redeem himself. If he doesn't behave poorly, neither should we. Thus far this season, Vick has proved himself worthy of forgiveness.

Thank you again, Jeff Lurie. This time I'll remove my tongue from my cheek and express some heartfelt appreciation for providing parents with another teaching moment. This one is about second chances and forgiveness, two virtues of which, along with our Eagles and our quarterback, I have become a die-hard fan.