From my peripheral vantage point, it’s been an interesting summer to consider the character(s) of sport. Roger Federer finally won the elusive French Open, prompting reviews that “nice guys can come first.” Now that the Tour de France is over, media attention has turned to the “drivel” between Lance Armstrong and this year’s champion Alberto Contador. I’m still pondering how Tom Watson must feel after coming so close to winning the British Open, just missing setting a record for the oldest player to win a major championship. Hailed as one of the classiest players in the game, Watson drew praise and respect while the tournament temper of the most beloved player, Tiger Woods, was not overlooked in the media this time. (I’ll skip the continuing saga of steroids and baseball - see Mitch’s post.)
And now comes the annual return of the NFL. As training camps open, I find myself monitoring the future of Michael Vick now that the NFL has reinstated him post-dogfighting conviction, and reflecting on how forgiveness and second chances take the field in the elevated world of professional athletes. I’m a dog lover, you may recall, and so this one tugs at me closely. I’ve heard several reports that Vick is “a changed man” and sincerely sorry for his participation in dog-fighting rings. He’s returning to the NFL under the mentorship of former NFL coach Tony Dungy, a magnanimous sportsman, who said of Vick:
“I think Michael deserves the chance to show people he has changed and learned from past mistakes, but my true hope is that he will make sound decisions about his future and, at the same time, let people know more about the person that I’ve come to know recently. I know the public will be skeptical, but I think, over time, people will find there’s a different side to him than what they’ve seen so far.”
Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, added:
“We support the principle that one should not only be allowed, but also encouraged to return to their chosen profession after fulfilling their debt to society. Michael Vick’s offenses were tragic and wrong and he has paid a debt through both prison and public ridicule. Now [Vick] can demonstrate that he can and will serve as a role model for young men in communities across the nation.”
I think that’s the best possible outcome for this situation. Eventually a team will select him, so, a la Michael McCollough, I’m inclined to calm my revenge instinct (he should not be allowed to play or make big bucks in the NFL) and embolden my forgiveness intuition (give him a chance to prove himself and return to his profession). I’m skeptical, but I will hope Vick sets a new example and writes a redeeming chapter for modern professional sports.