The Outlaw Scorned
Oddly enough, the one thing that makes the American sports landscape great is what also happens to be its fatal flaw: redemption.
We all love an inspiring comeback story; a vindicating tale of redemption is "Must See TV". Perhaps it is because it gives us hope for overcoming our own shortcomings. The sight of an athlete reclaiming glory against all odds in some ways allows us to live vicariously through him.
As is the case with life, athletic careers are rife with peaks and valleys. But what if said valleys are deemed to be too low? Is there such a thing as an unforgivable sin?
Regarding the strange case of Michael Vick, it appears so. The more good that he does—on and off the field—the more vitriol he inspires. For every human interest piece done on him that is rife with the vague, evocative accouterments of boosterism, there are 20 blistering indictments against him and those who dare to praise his change for the better.
To Vick's dissenters, the question is: what, exactly, should be done?
E Street Speaks
On ESPN's website, Hall of Fame Bruce Springsteen guitarist Nils Lofgren submitted a story that blasted the media for exploring any positive angle on Vick.
"If (Vick) was a third string lineman," he wrote, "do you think he would have been banned for life by the league, to set an example?"
It's a valid question. But ultimately, one that is relegated to rhetorical status. The insinuation is that Vick was given preferential treatment due to his position and public profile. But given the heinous and unspeakably cruel nature of his crimes, do you really think that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell would do such a thing?
If anything, Vick's position—on the field and in the league in general—would in fact merit a harsher punishment. He's high profile, which means the whole world is watching. The harsher the punishment, the better, at least in PR terminology.
The bottom line is this: why is it wrong to commend a man for making a change for the better? The irrational fear that many people harbor is that by doing so, they condone Vick's horrendous behavior in the past. However, that is simply not the case.
"He Shouldn't Be Allowed in the NFL"
So long as the criminal justice system doesn't deem you worthy of a life sentence, you are entitled the right to earn a living once freed from incarceration. Of course, the obvious issue people have with Vick is that it is a widely known fact that players in the NFL make more than a decent living.
A king's ransom, in fact.
What is not as widely known, however, are the complex, draconian stipulations tied to Vick's finances. According to ESPN lawyer and columnist Lester Munson, two out of every three dollars Vick makes are spoken for.
So, in spite of the nearly $6 million that he will make this year, the fact remains that he is only allowed $750 a month to live on, after rent (which is also limited).
Even with what many see as a looming, inevitable and lucrative contract, Vick remains on a strict court budget until 2015. He could make Bill Gates' paycheck and still roam the Ramen Noodle isle out of necessity due to the terms his court order.
Is this fair? That's for God and the courts to decide. But the fact remains that Vick is in fact not living in the lap of luxury, as many of his embittered detractors seem to think.
Is there a resolution to all of this? Probably not, given the mercurial, non-standardized nature of the court of public opinion.
The more success Vick has, the more scrutiny and scorn he will face. Remember last year, when he was a sparingly used third stringer? He made headlines for a brief period of time, but more so in a "oh, by the way" context.
Now that he's the leading Pro Bowl vote getter and enjoying the best season of his career, things have changed...back to the way they were in 2007. No matter what he does to redeem himself, it will never be enough in some people's eyes.
All of which begs the question: what more can he do? Should he volunteer to go back to the Leavenworth, KS prison? Should he forfeit his right to make a living and try his hand at destitution and pan handling?
What would you do, other than make the best of what you have and try to move on?
To those that are angered every time he makes headlines, what, exactly, would you like to see?
For many, that is an open-ended, rhetorical question that can never be answered in detail. They simply want Vick to go away; to be unaware of a man who's terrible past is giving way to a promising future as both a player and a human being.
Perhaps we put ourselves in this position long ago when we as a culture decided to immortalize our sports heroes. Unfortunately, when doing so, you take the bad with the good.
As for Michael Vick, simply bettering himself for the right reasons will do just fine.