Troubled Athletes: Finding Faith on Road to Recovery

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The Masters Golf Tournament starts Thursday, and all eyes will be on the return of Tiger Woods. It is his first tournament since his sex-scandal captured headlines last December.

The event is a reminder that the road to recovery is not easy for athletes whose public image is tainted by moral failure. NFL quarterback Michael Vick is one of those athletes.

Vick shared his story in a rare, public conversation with coach Tony Dungy, the man who helped him walk the road from jail back to the NFL.

No Holds Barred

Dungy is one of the most respected leaders in NFL history. In 13 seasons, his teams won 139 regular season games, nine playoffs, and Superbowl XLI.

But his influence may be even greater, off the field.

"I retired to something," Dungy said. Dungy now works with people in need, including serving as a personal mentor to Vick. The relationship began while Vick was serving 18 months in prison for dog fighting.

"I was one of the few people allowed to go in there an visit. Coaches and general managers would be calling and saying, 'What did you see? What did you think? Is he really remorseful?' And you can never tell that," Dungy said. "But I did know that he wanted to come out an make a difference."

For the first time, the coach and quarterback shared some of those candid, jail-house conversations at the Athletes in Action Super Bowl Breakfast, sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ International.

"The first question I asked you was not about what had happened, but where you wanted to go from here," Dungy said to Vick.

"Our conversation started off with a question that I didn't expect," Vick said. "But my response was I wanted to come back out and redeem myself and do whatever I could to help as many people as I could to be an ambassador and do humanitarian work."

Grounded in Faith

Dungy's mentoring is grounded in faith. He is the grandson of a minister, and he accepted Christ at an early age.

"I asked Mike one other question and really the way he answered it got to me," Dungy said. "I said 'When you were in Atlanta making a $130 million, you have got Nike endorsements, Gatorade endorsements. And you have got No. 7 jerseys being sold over, where was the Lord in all that?"

"I think I started off saying that I was so self-centered and so concerned about myself and what I had going on that I forgot about the Lord," Vick replied.

Finding his faith helped Vick make the return to football. But the game was not the most important reunion on his mind and heart.

"One of the questions that I asked Michael, if you remember is, 'What was the toughest thing about being in there?' Do you remember what you told me then?" Dungy recalled.

"The toughest thing about being in prison ... was being away from my kids and not being able to get back the 18 months that I lost in their lives," Vick replied. "They were devastated. I was devastated. And to this day, I still have to explain to them why I left for such a long period of time."

Four Rules to Remember

Fatherhood, faith, and football are subjects Dungy writes about.

But as a mentor to Vick, there is something else he wants the public to consider -- forgiveness.

"The thing that we have to understand as a country is, 'Hey, that may have been me,'" Dungy said. "I have made mistakes in my life that maybe have not been as public. But we all make mistakes and forgiveness is a part of what God wants us to do."

Vick said Dungy has given him four rules to follow -- don't be bitter, don't seek revenge, hold on to his faith, and be a man of his word.

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Efrem Graham

Efrem Graham

News Anchor & Reporter

Efrem Graham is an award-winning journalist, who comes to CBN News from the ABC owned and operated station in Toledo, Ohio.  He received his master's degree from the Columbia University Journalism School. He also holds a bachelor's degree in English Literature from the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.  Follow Efrem on Twitter @EfremGraham and "like" him at Facebook.com/EfremGrahamCBN.