We all know cliches like, "Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me," or "It is easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission," to quote a few. But as fans, where do we draw the line?
Certainly professional athletes like Michael Vick, Tigers Woods, Mike Tyson, or Adam "don't call me Pacman anymore" Jones, and a host of others are easy enough to forgive, they've all read their lawyer-prepared statements, gotten involved in the community, and attended rehabilitation of some type, but that's not why we forgive them.
We as fans forgive professional athletes for one simple reason: They win.
Ask yourself, if any other perfect stranger in society were to commit the same transgressions that athletes like Vick, Tyson, or Roethlisberger committed, how willing would you be to accept an apology? I can only speak for myself, but I'm relatively confident in assuming that you would be reluctant.
My apology to Steeler fans in advance (I wrote a not-so nice article about He Hurt Me Harrison already), but Ben Roethlisberger has been accused of sexual misconduct not once, not twice, but supposedly FOUR TIMES! Granted, only two claims have been substantiated, but as another old saying goes, where there's smoke, there's fire.
In any other arena of society, it is plausible to assume that Big Ben doesn't get off as easily as a fine and four game suspension—lest we also forget, league mandated sex addiction rehab. If Roethlisberger is Joe Sixpack (or Joe Tequila Shots and Sex in the Bathroom) he is likely standing before a grand jury in Georgia on a rape indictment. However, Mr. Steeler's star status likely gained him a slap on the wrist; after all, the responding officers allegedly asked Roethlisberger for an autograph when responding, and a police-zoned area was cleaned—with bleach—before forensics was able to enter the area. Not to mention the video from that night somehow got taped over. Hmmm?
Would the same penalties apply to said Joe Sixpack?
To further the argument, if Roethlisberger was just a regular guy, instead of carrying the label of Pro Bowler and Super Bowl Champ, Roethlisbeger—convicted or not—would likely gain the title of sex offender—convicted or otherwise. However, the past two Sunday we have seen Big Ben back under center for the Steelers, being lauded by tens of thousands of fans holding signs saying, "Welcome Back Ben," whereas if he were anyone else, organizations like NSOCO (National Sex Offender and Criminal Organization) would be putting fliers up all over his neighborhood reading. . . well. . . you know.
My point is, we as fans create a different set of rules for those we idolize than those we interact with on a daily basis. . . but only if their winners.
Take Mike Vick for example. There is no way of ever knowing the extent of his dog fighting operation. What we do know is that Vick himself funded, and aided in the killing of hundreds of dogs. He even took household pets off people's porches to use them as 'sparring partners' if you will. Yet there is #7 every Sunday pointing skyward, running onto the field to 50,000+ screaming fans.
Sure Vick did his time, but is that why fans forgive him?
Think about it. The man slaughtered hundreds of innocent animals for what? Financial gain? Was he not already the beneficiary of the largest contract ever awarded to a QB? If he were a politician would you vote for him, because you can bet that would be the first handful of mud to be slung in a campaign.
The reason people forgave Mike Vick is because he stepped in for an injured Kevin Kolb and was successful. Say what you will about last season, but let's be honest, Vick was mired in relative obscurity behind Donovan McNabb.
But criminal exploits withstanding, what about other athletes involved in misdeeds like say, infidelity?
I understand that people cheat on their spouses all the time, so much so that infidelity has almost become accepted as part of life. Its a personal matter to say the least, but when you're a global icon the way men like Tiger Woods are, does that mean you should get a reprieve?
Make no mistake, I'm not comparing the actions of Vick or Roethlisberger to something like adultery, but should it not also be viewed as an abhorrent practice? Especially when considering the magnitude to which Woods was unfaithful.
Words like chauvinist and womanizer exist because of men like Tiger Woods. What he did is reprehensible and disgusting. Sure, he didn't commit a crime, but for the man who at one time was so squeaky clean that he gave Mr. Clean a run for his money, the amount of dirty laundry that finally got aired out would've been enough for Woods to get a sponsors exemption from Tide. However, as soon as he took his first tee-shot at Augusta, there were the same old "Get in the Hole" (no pun intended) or, "Atta boy Tiger" cheers from the gallery.
Did golf fans really need Tiger so badly, that they would welcome him back with such open arms? Any other man in that same predicament is buried.
Life. Ruined. Its that simple.
But because Tiger has won so much, and will likely win again, the memory of his sin was quickly dismissed, because everyone loves a winner. Sure he has his own personal collateral damage to deal with—something to the tune of 750 million dollars and partial custody of his children, but life will go on for Tiger.
The common thread to this whole argument is not to single out anyone player as a miscreant the likes of which would make a sadistic terrorist jealous, rather, it is intended to ask the question: When do the double standards cease?
If any other man or marginal athlete commits these same social atrocities they are likely excommunicated from whatever circles they are involved in. As my old high school coach used to say, "If you run with the dogs, you get the fleas."
I'm not saying that these men deserve to be persecuted for the remainder of their lives; everyone deserves a second chance.
What I am saying, is that winning isn't everything.