It’s all about Forgiveness: For sports icons in the Age of ESPN, ‘I’m sorry’ often isn’t enough.

By Chris Murray

For the Sunday Sun and the Chris Murray Report

In yet another episode in the annals of misplaced moral outrage, Chicago White Sox pitcher Mark Buerhle, a man who describes himself as animal lover, wished an injury on Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick.

And then there’s the case of Dallas strip club owner Richard Hunter, who apparently adopted one of Vick’s old fighting dogs, and then proceeded to stalk the quarterback and his entourage for four days. Hunter so enraged Vick’s bodyguards that one of them reportedly blurted out in frustration, “We don’t care about no damn dogs.”

Of course, sports talk hosts around the nation bitched and moaned about that, too. While no one wanted to talk about the fact that stalking is, in fact, illegal, they were more than willing to talk about the bodyguard’s ill-chosen words.

But to be honest, I’m not mad at that bodyguard because the constant Vick bashing has reached overkill status. How many times does this man have to pay his debt to society before it’s actually paid off?

I felt compelled to talk about this because what’s missing in all of this handwringing is the concept of forgiveness. We live in a world where the holier-than thou like to pick on people who make a mistake and deem them unforgivable. It’s a new brand of bullying where the maniacally self-righteous get off on bashing people they deem as evildoers whom they deem as beyond redemption or mercy.

Vick is certainly not the only subject of such vitriol. Oddly enough, Pete Rose, baseball’s all-time hits leader, has been kept out of Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame because of the gambling addiction he had while managing the Cincinnati Reds. He was banned from baseball in 1989 by then Major League Baseball commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti for “staining the game.” Players who are banned from baseball are ineligible for Hall of Fame consideration.

Years later, in an apparent effort to sell a book, Rose finally admitted he bet on baseball, but it wasn’t considered contrite enough by his critics and those who cast the Hall of Fame vote. And so, Rose permanently stands on the outside looking in because he still bears a scarlet letter from which there is no escape.

Vick lost millions of dollars, his freedom, his livelihood and his self-respect. Even leaving the confines of prison, he has spent his time educating young people in urban areas about dog fighting and how it ruined his life.

As for Rose, his ban from baseball took away any hopes he had of ever managing another baseball team. The problem in Rose’s case was that his greatness as a player and that it had nothing to do with his gambling on baseball.

But you wouldn’t know that they lost anything from how they’ve been treated by the media. How much more penance do Rose and Vick have to do before it’s considered enough?

Here’s something else for all the judgmental grand inquisitors out there: It has been well established in public health circles that gambling is a mental health problem and not a moral failing. Rose’s addiction was just as severe as that of anyone who has been hooked on cocaine or heroin.

(By the way, the baseball Hall of Fame does have its share of drug users and alcoholics and even a Klansman if you count former hit king Ty Cobb. I’m just sayin’.)

Vick has served his time and Rose has been banned from baseball for over 20 years. Both men have paid the price legally and in the so-called court of public opinion for their transgressions. What else do we want? Do we want their firstborn child as penance? A left arm maybe? Will that be enough?

I think that having the capacity to forgive requires a lot more  moral courage than it does to sit back and continue to yell, “Dog killer!” or “Degenerate gambler!”

For those who think that people like Vick and Rose are beyond redemption, I’d like for you to consider the case of Nelson Mandela.

Mandela spent 25 long years of his life in a South African prison during the days of apartheid when millions of Black African “human beings” lost their lives during the course of an unjust, racist regime. When he became president of South Africa, he could have easily called for the execution of those in the Apartheid government who authorized this unjust treatment and jailed him for protesting it.

But instead, Mandela, along with Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu, formed the Truth and Reconciliation Committee in effort to help bring some healing to a country ravaged by hatred. It was about forgiveness rather than acts of vengeance. To be sure, it wasn’t perfect and it certainly had its critics, but the idea was not constant retribution, but a way for both sides to recognize their common humanity.

If a human being can have it in his heart to forgive his former enemies for doing something far more severe against human beings than anything that even the most brutal dogfighter could come up with, why does it seem to be such a big problem for the sports aristocracy along with fans as well to begin the process of forgiveness when it comes to people like Michael Vick and Pete Rose?

Besides what if it were you? What if you did something egregious in your youth and people constantly reminded you of it even though you took responsibility for it? Wouldn’t you want forgiveness for your actions rather than carrying the stain of that sin for the rest of your life?

Unfortunately, we live in a world of people who would rather point out the dust in their neighbor’s eye than look at the splinter in their own.

2 thoughts on “It’s all about Forgiveness: For sports icons in the Age of ESPN, ‘I’m sorry’ often isn’t enough.

  1. I would like to believe neither Rose, Vick, or other celebrity targets of public derision are secure enough in themselves not to worry what people think about them, for better or worse. They have their freedom; they have their health, and they’re wealthy. So, the question is knowing an opinion and $1 gets you a cup of coffee at McDonald’s whether ‘fallen’ celebrities are the best people to use for making a solid logical argument on behalf of the presumption of innocence.

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