Michael Vick is the now-indefinitely suspended Atlanta Falcons NFL quarterback who pleaded guilty earlier this week to charges related to funding the ugly and cruel business of dog-fighting matches and then gambling on the outcomes of the matches. He provides a particularly chilling and painful example of lack of two forms of integrity: Collective Integrity and Leadership Integrity.

By way of background, when most people think of integrity, they tend to focus most on Relationship Integrity. The most talked-about aspect of Relationship Integrity has to do with saying what we mean and meaning what we say. This includes making commitments we actually complete, keeping others informed in a timely way when our commitments need to change, and taking responsibility for consequences when we don’t follow through on a commitment or we don’t re-negotiate it in a timely way if it needs to change. There are more aspects of Relationship Integrity than this. I cover them in my book The New IQ: How Integrity Intelligence Serves You, Your Relationships and Our World, to be released in January 2008.

In addition to Relationship Integrity, there are three other aspects of integrity: Personal Integrity, Collective Integrity and Leadership Integrity. I cover all of these as well in The New IQ. Personal Integrity is about being whole and complete, which on a practical level begins with proper self-care rather than self-neglect or self-indulgence. It also includes more than that. In The New IQ I translate being “whole and complete” from a vague philosophical concept into specific day-to-day behaviors so that this aspect of integrity becomes do-able and useful.

Michael Vick illustrates being out of integrity with the other two aspects of integrity. He serves us all in a backhanded way, however, through providing an example of the kind of huge damage that is caused by lack of Collective and Leadership Integrity. It is these to aspects of integrity that I will feature in this post.

Vick was a leader, not simply of his Atlanta Falcons professional football team, but in a far more fundamental way that every single one of us is a leader: he was a role-model. It does not matter what a professional athlete thinks about whether or not s/he should be seen as a role-model. For instance, professional athletes have no control over the fact that they are looked up to by many children (and others too). The “what is” is that they are. Their choice to become professional athletes is their choice to decide what kind of relationship they will have with the fact that they will be seen as role-models. Vick’s abdication of Leadership Integrity harms children’s ability to look up to professional athletes. Beyond that, whether he likes it or not, Vick role-modeled awful things about males, professional athletes, and blacks. And this is just for starters!

Vick’s abdication of Leadership Integrity is also an abdication of Collective Integrity. A crucial aspect of integrity has to do with serving the highest good of the collectives of which we are a part. That is what Collective Integrity is all about. For starters, Vick is part of the following collectives: humanity, males, Americans, blacks, athletes and professional football players, and his own Atlanta Falcons team. Let us take a closer look at two of these aspects of Collective Integrity.
At the level of Collective Integrity with humanity, Vick abdicated our responsibility as members of humanity to be stewards of our planet. As part of this we have a responsibility to treat other creatures (in Vick’s case dogs) with honor and respect. Vick’s guilty plea indicates that he funded cruelty (dog fights) and also bankrolled betting on which dog could damage the other dog more (gambling). This dishonors and disrespects these creatures. Absolutely no version of collective highest good is being served by this.

At the level of Collective Integrity with his own Atlanta Falcons football team, Michael Vick abdicated his responsibility to his team. By making his own interest in harming dogs and gambling on dog fights more important than the team he led as its quarterback, he let down his team members and the owners of the team who invested a huge amount of money in an incredibly financially lucrative contact. He basically said to them that his self-centered desire to do what he wanted to do was more important than the horrible repercussions his being caught would cause to the Atlanta Falcons.

This is, to me, a classic example of one of the cornerstones of lack of Collective Integrity that has reached epidemic proportions in our world: entitlement. Vick appears to me to have believed that he was entitled to get away with breaking United States law as well as the ethics policies of the National Football League. He appears to me to have believed that those laws and ethics policies did not apply to him; that his super-star status should exempt him from having to obey them. I don’t know this for sure because I have no idea what inner motivations led to his choices. This is just what his behaviors imply to me.

What I do know is that Michael Vick is not a victim. He is an adult who made out-of-integrity choices and is responsible for the results his choices led to. Vick is now beginning to experience those consequences. At least he did not pull the all-too-popular stunt that so many try to pull these days: pleading innocent to what they know they are guilty of in order to escape having to experience the natural consequences of their choices to live out of integrity.

I applaud Michael Vick for taking this first step in bringing himself back into integrity. I believe he has many more steps to take before his journey back into integrity regarding this particular incident is complete. But that is another story for another time.

I also applaud Roger Goodell, the Commissioner of the NFL, for placing Vick on indefinite suspension (as of this posting) as a consequence of Vick’s actions. Goodell, in my opinion, has been taking vitally important steps during this past year toward restoring the integrity of the NFL through enforcing its own ethics and code-of-conduct policies. (I applaud his actions in The New IQ as well.) I hope this post makes it into Goodell’s hands because I would love to provide an Integrity Intelligence training program for NFL rookies as part of the life skills training the NFL so wisely offers them!