It’s all about Forgiveness: For Sports Icons In The Age of ESPN, ‘I’m Sorry’ Often Isn’t Enough


Mark Buehrle has harsh comments for Michael Vick in recent interview, saying 'there were times where we hope he gets hurt.'

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.

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.

9 Responses to “It’s all about Forgiveness: For Sports Icons In The Age of ESPN, ‘I’m Sorry’ Often Isn’t Enough”

  1. sankofa says:

    The Nelson Mandela reference is a trigger to me as I am a serious critic of what went down. However, I will conceed to the point you are making.

    I just want to include Barry Bonds in this act of Americanism, that the media supports and encourage.

    Reporter to Mahama Gandi: “What do you think of Western Civilization?”

    Gandi: ” That would be a good thing”

  2. Ryan Mishap says:

    Thanks for this. The U.S. has the highest number of prisoners in the world and one of the reasons for that is our culture’s inability to forgive after accountability and reparations have been given. We need to stop casting those who did the wrong thing, broke the law, or are just accused of breaking the law (legal and moral) of being subhuman. You can’t forgive someone who isn’t considered human, and it makes it easier to treat people the way prisons do if they aren’t considered human–they’re “criminals.”

  3. MODI says:

    From a public perspective, Pete Rose has been forgiven for a very long time now as he can get cheered everywhere. It is more the tightwade baseball media (beyond Jim Gray) and holier-than-HOF gate keepers that keep him out of the hall.

    The NFL itself has forgiven Vick (and why wouldn’t they as Eagles games post the highest ratings!), but a segment of the white public has not, and there is nothing that he could ever do to change Mark Buerhle’s or Tucker Carlson’s warped minds.

    Yup, add Bonds Sankofa, and America’s incarceration rates of non-violent offenders are a very good statistical measure of where America politically lands on the forgiveness scale.

    About Mandela, last year I was listening to a college professor who spent time in South Africa who said that after the Truth and Reconciliation hearings, it was much easier for her as an African-American to engage in honest conversations with white South Africans about Apartheid than it was to engage with white Americans about slavery despite the 150 year gap. I thought that this was a deep and telling point on many levels.

  4. Temple3 says:

    Broadly speaking, I like the idea of connecting Rose and Vick. That’s thoughtful and somewhat compelling.

    @ Sankofa:

    I’m with you. I wouldn’t characterize South Africa as a country ravaged by hatred as much as I’d characterize it as a country ravaged by the white supremacist seizure of land, labor, liberty, legacy and life over many generations.

    The Commissions were probably a good thing…they might even be a prerequisite for some other good things, but there is no need for South Africa to FOCUS on hatred.

    “Hatred” is not the root of the problem. Heck, it’s not even the worst case scenario. Most importantly though, hatred is not the sort of thing that can exist in a vacuum. It needs to be catalyzed by something. Something like a state-sanctioned inter-generational crime with tons of co-conspirators from the USA and Israel…something like that.

    @ MODI:

    I bet it’s still hard to talk to white South Africans about returning land and capital to Blacks. I’m sure they can reminisce about bad behavior now that they assurances that a death blow will not be dealt by the government.

    “Contrite, sad, despondent, melancholy, and glum white estate holders revisit horrors of Sharpeville, Robben Island and more. Story at 11.” As they say where I’m from, “Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit.” (slowly, and with a little bass).

  5. RBD says:

    Pete Rose is cheered in Cincinnati, but I’m not sure he has made public appearances in any city other than Cincy, Cooperstown and Las Vegas lately. To suggest he’s cheered everywhere is an exaggeration. He’s irrelevant.

  6. Miranda says:

    I just don’t see any real benefit to 90% of the media in this country.

  7. Big Man says:

    South Africa appears to still be having a LOT of problems dealing with the fallout from apartheid. I remember reading about the huge neo-nazi community there, and how all the white folks are mimicing the talking point of white folks here when it comes to discussing wealth distribution and what not. Just saying.

  8. sankofa says:

    I recently posted on my blog about the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale and Cuba’s Role in the Defeat of Apartheid (apart-hate)

    Check out some of the back and forth vitrol between myself and the supporters of apart-hate and you will see why SA is in the state it is in now. And how neither Mandela nor Mbeki provided nothing to the masses.

    Anybody that says South Africa is getting better, haven’t factored in that the Caucasians still control the Army, police, Judiciary and the media. In fact parliament is a place were the powrless go to make rules on the African masses not on the devils that drove that country to be one of the worlds most violent and impoverished country.

    In fact the men’s shelter I work in as seen a large influx of brothers from the whole southern region of Africa, and the tales they tell, even from those converted to Christianity is appalling. I mentioned Chritianity because that brotherly love, though immasculating has not afected the anger and despair they feel.

  9. CAvard says:

    This is why I love The Starting Five. Where else can you read stories about sports figures and forgiveness? This is needed in the mainstream sports media and unfortunately, it’s not there. The Starting Five rocks. Well done, Mr. Murray!

Leave a Reply