Sunday, September 12, 2010

Is it time to forgive Michael Vick?

As my sons and I watched the second half of the Philadelphia-Green Bay football game today, my older son's anger toward Michael Vick was palpable.

"I can't forgive a guy who was so mean to dogs," he grumbled, as we watched Vick almost bring his Eagles back from a huge deficit. In fact when Vick was stopped on the Eagles' final offensive play, my son jumped out of his chair and screamed "yes!"

Mind you, that reaction was in part his lingering hostility toward Vick and also because his favorite team -- the Packers -- was going to win the game.

I watched Vick perform today and a thought more than once came into my head: Is it time for Michael Vick to be forgiven for what he did? And at the same time, does Vick deserve to be respected for his stunning athletic ability?

Over the past couple of years, my older son has become increasingly aware of the destructive behavior of various athletes. No, Vick was never among his personal favorites, but even at his tender age he could appreciate Vick's greatness. He's unsure what to make of Barry Bonds because of the chronic allegations he used performance-enhancing drugs to build his awesome career stats. And I've noted on this blog on more than one occasion that my son's adoration of Tiger Woods has ended, and with it also has gone his interest in watching golf.

Vick destroyed his image because he thought it was a good idea to abuse dogs. Bonds destroyed his image because he wanted to be the best no matter the ends to that mean. Woods destroyed his image because he couldn't keep his pants on.

Let's leave Bonds out of this because baseball still hasn't fully come to grips with its culpability in the steroid era. Too many smart people looked the other way for blame to be laid only at the doorstep of a select number of players. And let's also leave Woods out of this conversation because a legitimate argument could be made that he did nothing illegal. Morality is an individual choice, on the other hand, so society could eventually determine that Woods' stupidity was a personal transgression. Forgiveness, in my opinion, is easier when a legal issue is not involved.

Vick is a more complicated matter because he broke the law. Shattered it, in fact. He paid his penalty both to society (jail time) and his profession (his extended suspension). He's been back in the league for two years now, and he played sparingly but successfully for the Eagles last season.

He remains the team's back up quarterback, and he was pressed into action today because the starter went out with a concussion. It's possible therefore that Vick could start one or two games for Philadelphia as the starting quarterback recovers.

And with that background, I return to the central premise of this post -- is it time to forgive Michael Vick? Under my roof, the answer is a resounding "no." There is an 11-year-old who made his feelings known today. There is a 6-year-old who loves animals with a kindness that young people often don't have. My wife and I see Vick's situation plainly and simply: How could he have acted with such recklessness and stupidity, and in doing so likely permanently damaged his personal and professional reputation?

But I'm sure there are others who will argue that Vick has paid his dues and it is therefore time to move on. He deserves (a word that always should be carefully used) a second chance -- as any person released from prison does -- to establish the kind of person he will be.

Adding to the complexity is Vick's potential to lead a team to victory. Lots of them, in fact. And in the world of the NFL, dog killers get a second chance. But only if they have the potential to win. Here in Pittsburgh, we watched the Steelers' starting quarterback nearly throw his career away because of an alleged sexual assault in Georgia. (We'll set aside a potential similar offense that took place in Nevada.)

If Ben Roethlisberger were the Steelers' third-string quarterback or some other less-than-valued reserve player, his sexual escapades in Georgia would have sent him to the unemployment line. So let's not deny the Steelers kept him because they know he can win. And along the same lines the Eagles signed Vick because of his athletic ability.

Do we forgive people such as Michael Vick because they have the ability to make our team number 1? All I can say is this -- if my favorite team, the Denver Broncos, had picked him up I'd have been terribly disappointed. And I likely would have reconsidered my affinity for that team.

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