Friday, October 29, 2010

It’s Easy to Forgive…and Forget, Apparently

Our society is one that embraces the slogan that it’s easy to forgive, but not forget.  I would suggest that at least two of our modern heroes have quickly had their deplorable actions quickly forgiven and forgotten.  I’m speaking of two NFL quarterbacks, Ben Roethlisberger of the Steelers and Michael Vick of the Eagles.  Give it a New York minute, and we can put Brett Favre of the Vikings in that category as well.

Years ago, Michael Vick was only known as a wildly popular athlete who played QB for the Atlanta Falcons when news of his involvement in a dogfighting ring in eastern Virginia came to light in 2007. He was about to enter the fourth year of a 10-year, $130 million contract. Many media reports stated that dogs at his "Bad Newz Kennels" were hanged, drowned, electrocuted, and shot. Initially, Vick denied ever being at the house, stating that he essentially turned over the residence to family members. As more details surfaced during the police investigations, Michael Vick looked more and more culpable, not only for owning the property where dogfights are occurred. But, there were witnesses who were willing to state that Vick was an active participant in some of the cruel actions performed on the dogs. Instead of facing a lengthier prison sentence, Vick pled guilty to dogfighting conspiracy, which carries a federal felony. He was sentenced to 23 months in federal prison. 49 dogs were seized from the property, two of which had to be euthanized, 22 were sent to an animal sanctuary in Utah to lessen aggression towards other dogs, and 25 ended up in foster care with the intent to be adopted. Michael Vick served his prison sentence, staying out of the spotlight.

 Michael Vick electrified NFL fans as a running quarterback for Atlanta

When he was released from prison, he returned to the NFL by signing a modest 2 year-$6.6 million contract with the Philadelphia Eagles. Immediately, there were a significant number of protests by dog lovers, regular fans, and of course, defamatory statements by PETA begging for boycotts of anything related to Michael Vick.  Even Eagles fans were divided in their opinion for bringing Vick onto the team. After all, what good could his presence be? He could not be considered any more than a backup with longtime starter, Donovan McNabb, at the helm. When Vick first entered the field in a preseason game in Jacksonville, he was mercilessly booed. His presence drew the outrage of many NFL fans. People still viewed him as a criminal. His fans were few and far between. Of course, America is a dog-loving society, which didn't help Vick's cause. As the 2009 season progressed, his reception became less and less of a distraction. Perhaps it was the manner in which he was used (only a sprinkling of plays each game as the backup QB), perhaps time just starting healing old wounds...but Michael Vick was no longer seen by the masses as a blight on society.

Vick was embroiled under intense scrutiny when federal charges were made against him for dogfighting.

In 2010, he was to serve as Kevin Kolb's backup after Donovan McNabb was traded to the Redskins. But, Vick got the opportunity to start by week 3 due to a combination of Kevin Kolb’s concussion-like symptoms and perceived ineffectiveness. The city of Philadelphia is now experiencing a lovefest with Vick thanks to his on-field performance…that is, before a rib cartilage injury forced him to the sideline for two weeks. But, he is once again scheduled to start the next game, despite Kevin Kolb being healthy. It looks like his story has come full circle and his return to the good graces of fans is complete. There may be a few that still hold a grudge, but those folks are in the minority.

Now Michael is back in the spotlight...due to his athletic exploits.

It has been well documented that Ben Roethlisberger has endured two separate allegations of sexual assault - once in 2008 at Lake Tahoe and again this year in Milledgeville, Georgia. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended the Steelers quarterback for four games for violating the personal conduct policy. While Ben was never formally charged with a crime, the NFL front office took these allegations seriously enough to sideline him for four weeks. The initial reaction in Pittsburgh was divided about 50/50 - half of Steelers nation supported him, thinking that he deserved a second chance. However, there was the other half of the fanbase who loathed him, some of which desired Roethlisberger to be off the team. There were significant rumors that the Steelers had floated their franchise QB out there as trade bait prior to the NFL draft in April. But, none of those trade rumors came to fruition.

Ben Roethlisberger, on top of the world, bringing a sixth Lombardi Trophy to Pittsburgh.

Ben, apologizing for his actions, days before he learned of his four-game suspension.  Nice mullet.

Fast forward three months to Latrobe, PA, where the Steelers hold training camp at Saint Vincent college. The majority of the fans cheered Ben when they saw him emerge onto the practice fields. In the preseason, the home fans were very supportive with only a few detractors. On the road, the Denver fans loudly booed Roethlisberger as he took the field, and on several plays when Ben was under center. Roethlisberger then endured his four-week suspension in solitude, banned from the team facility and from having any football-related communication with players or coaches. As Ben returned to football in week six, he was welcomed to Heinz Field by the loudest ovation of any offensive player when his name was announced. There were reports of perhaps a few dozen people on hand wearing capes and masks protesting the return of Roethlisberger. Steeler fans have swiftly overcome their disgust for their quarterback's offseason activities. Even this past week, Dolphin fans didn't give Ben a raucous welcome. It looks like all has been forgiven...and forgotten.

Roethlisberger atoned for his crimes (well, at least to most Steeler fans) by putting up 3 TD passes in his first game of the year against the Browns.

Brett Favre has been a lightning rod for media attention over the past three seasons with his on again / off again retirement stances. So, he hasn't exactly endeared himself to Packers (or Jets) fans by jilting his former teams and waiting until the last possible moment to attend training camp. But, now the legendary quarterback is embroiled in an unexpected controversy. Rumors swirl about that Favre left voicemails for a former female Jets employee (and model) asking to get together. Favre has admitted doing so. However, a lingering rumor persists that Brett has sent photos of his genitals to the woman in question, which of course Brett denied. Aside from the public ridicule regarding the pictures, Favre hasn't endured undue negative attention for the allegations...even while being married to his wife, Deanna, who has fought a battle with breast cancer. People are more concerned with his current on-field performance than any of his off the field antics.

Brett Favre, after being picked up by three teammates on a private team plane, returned to Minnesota in search of another elusive Super Bowl title.

It didn't take Favre long to get over how bad he feels for putting the Vikings in a tough spot with his off-the-field behavior.

A week after the Favre scandal erupted, he suffered two fractures in his left ankle at his old stomping grounds.

I can appreciate sports fans' perspectives that they only want the best for their team. So, if Michael Vick, Ben Roethlisberger, and Brett Favre give their respective teams the best opportunity to win, then fans can quickly forgive these men for their indiscretions. I will pose a different question to you. Sure, these guys are great football talents, but would you hold these men up as role models for your children? The reason I ask this is because sports figures (whether they like it or not) are heroes to many, including our kids. Each of these guys can be considered the face of their respective franchises right now. The spotlight on each man is very bright. But, think about it - dogfighting that gets you sent to federal prison, alleged sexual assaults, and inappropriate extramarital conduct - aren't these disgusting behaviors? How in the world can you consider any one of these men a leader, a role model? Impossible, in my opinion.

Celebrities, including prominent athletes, forget what impact they have on the rest of us. These men's disgusting actions have either been forgotten or soon will be. It is the enlightened approach to forgive a person for his past sins.  Forgiveness is fine, but forgetting their actions to the point where these players deserved to be treated as heroes is tough for me to swallow.  Athletes are placed on the highest of pedestals in our society.  I’m as guilty as the next guy for loving sports.  But, for once, I actually agree with Roger Goodell and believe that the integrity of the players needs to be held to the highest of standards.

There are heroes that walk amongst us in many different fields - science, religion, the arts, military, public service, and sports. These three particular men may be heroes on the sports field for their athletic prowess, but their character will never be worthy of praise or adulation.  True heroes provide an example of character for others to follow.  

1 comment:

  1. I would not hold them up as role models but I would present them as models of the new American axiom; "it's OK to forgive and forget as long as it's in your best interest."

    Nice blog my friend!