For John R. Lawson II, president of W.M. Jordan Company, life got rather interesting Thursday afternoon.
That’s when news broke that Lawson’s Newport News, Va.-based construction company had offered a $10/hour job to former NFL star Michael Vick, who will soon complete a 23-month sentence for orchestrating a dogfighting operation in Surry County, Va.
Within hours, Lawson’s voicemail was overflowing with inquires from reporters, and messages from those less than pleased with his latest hire.
“I’ve gotten calls from as far away as California,” Lawson says with a weary chuckle. “There are a lot of people out there who are not my friend.”
Lawson understands the reason behind their displeasure, as he too was shocked when the exploits of Vick’s Bad Newz Kennels became public. Both share Newport News roots and a connection with Virginia Tech. Lawson, a 1975 graduate, is Rector of the university’s Board of Visitors and co-founder of the Myers Lawson School of Construction, which promotes construction education and research.
Vick’s athletic talents put Virginia Tech’s football program in the national spotlight, and made him one of the NFL’s elite quarterbacks after only a two-year collegiate playing career.
But with his sentencing to 23 months in a federal prison in 2007, Vick became forever associated with unfeeling cruelty, the man that anyone who loves animals should love to hate.
Lawson insists that notoriety is undeserved.
“I’ve been close to him for more than ten years—well before he had money—and he’s not a bad person,” he says. “We’ve done charity work together, and he’s always been great with kids. The problems began when he surrounded himself with the wrong people. And, he comes from a background far different and more difficult than most of us can image.”
That’s why Lawson had no qualms when Vick’s representatives approached him about doing something other area employers would not—give the man who once commanded the NFL’s top salary a full-time job so that he could qualify for early release to a halfway house and begin to rebuild his life.
“How could I say no to that,” Lawson asks. “How could any of us not help someone who has made mistakes, and has paid the price?”
Besides, Lawson adds, “During my life, I had the benefit of a second chance that changed my life. Michael deserves the same opportunity.”
Lawson is unsure what Vick will do when he joins W.M. Jordan following his expected release from federal prison next month.
“He has no construction skills, so he will be starting at the bottom. He’ll have to go through our pre-employment testing and orientation programs like any other new employee. He won’t be treated differently from anyone else.”
Well, not entirely. Vick’s presence on a construction site could attract unwanted attention from antagonists and admirers alike. That’s why Lawson won’t say which of W.M. Jordan’s 40 commercial construction jobs will have Vick on its staff.
“The nature of our work will allow us to place him in the right location where he won’t be bothered,” Lawson says. “We’ll make sure his presence isn’t a distraction or disrupts work for our clients.”
Lawson is also confident that any fallout from his decision will soon pass. Vick remains hopeful of resuming his professional football career, allowing him to pay off more than $20 million of debt to his creditors, and tackle the more formidable challenge of repairing his reputation. “We know this is just a temporary job,” Lawson says. “I don’t expect him to make a career out of it.”