It took a while to get through. The phone was busy.
When someone finally answered, it was the man I was looking for - Michael Muhammad. He's the chairman of the Southeastern Virginia Arts Association.
"I've gotten so many hate calls," Muhammad said. "I thought you were one of those."
His paranoia was understandable. People tend to come looking for you when you compare an NFL quarterback to the son of God - especially while using the aforementioned quarterback to market your event.
Let's back up. The SEVAA is hosting its "first annual black tie honors gala" on March 26. The organization's website trumpets the party "featuring this year's honorees:" Carl La Mondue - founder of La Mondue Law Firm and a "legal consultant" to the SEVAA, according to Muhammad - and Michael Vick.
Vick's personal PR handler said Vick is "aware of the organization's intention to honor him" but added the SEVAA event "isn't on his calendar at this time, and he has not confirmed with the organization whether he will attend." Through a spokesperson, the Eagles echoed that sentiment.
Vick has been associated with all sorts of institutions and events since being propped up as the Eagles' chief agent for social change. Some of those organizations are legitimate; others have shamelessly attempted to exploit and profit from Vick's name. You can decide for yourself which category the SEVAA falls into, though I'm betting on the latter.
Most of the groups trying to sidle closer to Vick have one thing in common: a love of gross hyperbole. It's now standard procedure to shout Vick's name when using him for various promotional purposes - whether it's for a birthday bash in Virginia Beach or a key-to-the-city ceremony for a town he's not from and doesn't live in. But considering all the exaggerated Vick rhetoric that's already been employed, perhaps the only thing that hadn't been tried was an over-the-top comparison between the quarterback and Jesus Christ. Or, rather, it hadn't been tried until Muhammad came along.
After the SEVAA said Vick would be honored as a "hero" for "overcoming obstacles" and being an example of "life success for all to emulate," Muhammad went on WAVY-TV, an NBC affiliate in Portsmouth. Va. That's when he drew the parallel between Vick and Jesus.
"People talk about the fact that Michael Vick was a convicted felon. Well, so was Jesus Christ, yet he was able to do things above and beyond the naysayers," Muhammad recently told the station.
Not surprisingly, Muhammad received immediate feedback. Lots of angry people called Muhammad to tell him he shouldn't have done that. But local and national media outlets also contacted Muhammad. When I reached out, he said he had just finished an interview with CNN. He swore that he didn't anticipate getting so much attention and said that wasn't the SEVAA's motivation.
I asked Muhammad if he regretted making the comparison between Jesus and Vick. He told me he didn't make a comparison. He said he took "severe umbrage" with me even calling it a comparison. We decided to disagree on the semantics. But did he regret it?
"Not at all," Muhammad said. "What's wrong with the statement? Jesus Christ was a convicted felon. But we now see him as our lord and savior. He's the greatest exponent of redemption. And now Michael is an exponent of redemption also. People are absolutely too critical of [Vick]. [Tucker Carlson] said he should be executed. That is too far reaching and absurd. To say Michael should be executed, he received the punishment society deemed appropriate."
I noted the obvious irony in his position that Carlson's comments were "too far reaching and absurd." Muhammad said he didn't understand my point.
You're probably wondering why an organization dedicated to the arts is honoring a football player or likening him to Jesus. Muhammad said it ought to be obvious - and it is, but not for the reason he cited.
"The work he does on and off the field is art," said Muhammad, who told me he's met Vick several times and called him a "wonderful young brother" who "should be left alone to serve young people."
"The work that [La Mondue] does as an attorney in the court is art. It's artistry," Muhammad continued. "You cannot deny that going up and down the field, what [Vick] can do, is artistry."
You also can't deny that using Vick's name will help sell tickets to the SEVAA's black tie event. Actually, the SEVAA isn't selling tickets. It's accepting "donations." Big difference. The donations cost $100, by the way.
According to various media accounts, proceeds from the Vick fete will go to paying off the SEVAA's debt, which was reportedly accrued during a previous regime before Muhammad took over as chairman. The organization still owes police officers and sheriff's deputies more than $33,000 for providing security for an SEVAA festival last year. An attorney for the officers and deputies told WAVY-TV, "We're hopeful [the Vick event] is going to be a success so the officers can be paid."
Despite what Vick's personal PR handler said, Muhammad claimed Vick confirmed - through La Mondue - that he would attend the March 26 gala. Muhammad called La Mondue a "close personal friend" of the quarterback. It seems Vick has a lot of those these days - even ones he might not know.