Vick's experience is learning tool

Michael Vick's forthcoming autobiography, "Finally Free," should be required reading for every player in the National Football League. Not just rookies. Everybody.

Apparently, some basic dos and don'ts of life need to be reiterated. Don't drive drunk. Don't flash a gun. And please, don't hit your mother, or any woman, for any reason, ever.

You would think these would be no-brainers, but given the rash of arrests during what is supposed to be the dead period of the league's calendar, some men missed the message. They don't realize what Vick learned the hard way: Playing in the NFL is a privilege, not a right, and the commissioner takes his personal conduct policy very seriously. He doesn't like it when players besmirch the NFL shield. He really doesn't like it when players lie to him.

Roger Goodell does, however, value success stories, and Vick has become the ultimate success story. He survived. He had everything except his family ripped away from him because he didn't get another basic don't -- dogfighting -- and through the grace of the Philadelphia Eagles and Goodell, he was able to rebuild his life, his financial portfolio, his career and (to some extent) his reputation. Vick was incarcerated in federal prison for 18 months. He had two prime years of his career stripped away.

It took a catastrophic event for Vick to learn, but he learned, and he has done virtually everything right in the aftermath. He isn't a recidivist. He hasn't been in the news for doing stupid things. He isn't out partying. By all accounts, Vick is leading a relatively low-key life, playing golf, endorsing products, unveiling a new line of clothing and getting married.

On Tuesday, when the ugly details of Dallas wide receiver Dez Bryant's arrest over the weekend were trickling out, Vick was on the set of "Today," answering questions from Matt Lauer and pushing his book, which will be released Sept. 4 in conjunction with the start of a heavily anticipated Eagles season. Vick said he wrote the book in part to help educate kids about what can happen when you make bad decisions.

Vick made plenty, and he paid a significant price. And yet he rebounded. His is an unprecedented comeback that even in a best-case scenario Goodell might never have imagined. Vick wasn't supposed to become the Eagles' starting quarterback. He was brought in as a backup to a backup. Philadelphia had Donovan McNabb. It had McNabb's groomed successor, Kevin Kolb. It didn't need an out-of-shape experiment.

And yet, through an unlikely set of circumstances that included the Eagles trading McNabb to Washington and then Kolb getting concussed in the 2010 season opener, Vick had an opportunity to climb back. To his credit, when his time came, he was ready.

Now 32 years old, with a full offseason behind him in which he worked on his body and his mind, having studied more film than ever before, Vick is set to embark on what will be his most important football season yet. His story is not complete. There is another chapter to be written, one he repeatedly has said he hopes ends with the Eagles doing something they have never done: hoist the Lombardi Trophy.

That would mean more to long-suffering Philadelphia fans than any other championship in that city maybe ever. But Vick can have perhaps an even bigger impact on the game if his peers read his book.

Take this excerpt provided to USA Today of Vick talking about being a prisoner:

"I was no longer No. 7, the football player," Vick wrote. "I was inmate No. 33765-183, and I couldn't change that, regardless of the fact that this number definitely didn't fit me. I had that number on every day. I had to write it on each piece of mail that I sent out. It will forever be embedded in my brain."

For a time, No. 33765-183 defined Michael Vick. To some, it always will. But to many, because he was able to work through it, to do the right things, to own up to his mistakes, to work with the Humane Society educating kids, and to regain the form that made him one of the most dynamic players of his generation, he has returned to being No. 7, the football player.

Vick's voice, given where he came from and what he endured, is powerful. It carries weight, particularly with guys in their 20s playing in the NFL who have watched him since they were kids. Vick spoke at the rookie symposium this year. It was a natural fit.

But the league should buy copies of Vick's book and distribute them to all of its players, rookies and veterans. Get a copy in the hands of Bryant, Marshawn Lynch, Elvis Dumervil and the others who have run afoul of the law this offseason. Make sure they read it so they can see that their decisions, good and bad, have consequences.

Maybe it will help wake them up and realize that this game can be taken away from them, and that being in the NFL is a special opportunity not to be wasted by making bad decisions.