By Jason Menard
On Nov. 15, 2010, Michael Vick was on top of the world, with thousands of people cheering his name as he led the Philadelphia Eagles to a resounding 59-28 victory on Monday Night Football. Just over three years ago, countless more were hoping to see him locked up for so long that the only football he’d ever play would be for the Mean Machine.
So was anyone uncomfortable watching that spectacle? As fans, how much does a player’s personal life impact your enjoyment of the game? And should it?
There are people out there who will never forgive Vick for his heinous actions in running an illegal dog-fighting ring. There are those who believe that his actions forfeited his right to ever play in the NFL again – that playing professional football is a right that’s earned, not destined.
On the flip side, there are those who believe that once you’ve served the time, your debt is paid to society. There are those who point to the manner in which Vick has comported himself over the past two years since his release, saying that he’s learned his lessons and even showed some humility with his willingness to serve as a back-up – a role he was expected to play again this year until Kevin Kolb’s injury opened the door for Vick to display his unquestionable talents. And, sadly, there are those who will say that Vick’s crimes were committed against dogs, so we should all get over it.
Where do I stand? I’m not a Vick fan and I chose not to watch Monday’s game. I believe he got off too lightly and that no team should have let him be on the roster. I also, apparently, am in the minority.
If you’re anti-Vick, you can stomp your feet, create petitions, and shout from the rooftops, but they really don’t make a difference. The only type of protest that counts – the only vote you get – is the one that comes out of your wallet.
Sure, there were a few protests last year when Vick was signed by the Philadelphia Eagles. But those have gone by the wayside and the Philly faithful is gobbling up his success with an eagerness that’s exceeded only by their love of cheese steaks. The stadium’s still filled, people are still buying jerseys, and Vick’s addition to the Eagles’ roster is now only debated in terms of on-field merit, not framed by his off-field actions.
He frequently hear about criminal activity in the sports world. However, I’m not one to believe that athletes are significantly more likely to commit crimes; I believe that the spotlight shines brighter on them than those in other occupations, so the only difference is that we see the reports on the news. And if you were to limit your team affiliation to only those clubs with a spotless record, then you’d have a hard time rooting for any organization.
Yet, what’s troubling is our collective willingness to forget – and in some cases, forgive – absolutely heinous crimes. Leonard Little killed Susan Gutwiler in 1998, after driving away from a party with a blood alcohol level of 0.19 per cent. He then was arrested for DWI in 2004 after failing three roadside sobriety tests. While he admitted drinking to police, he was later found not guilty. But how many people were thinking of that while they were cheering his team on to victory?
Forgery, drug trafficking, assault with a weapon, burglary, and – most disgustingly – violence against women/spouses. Years ago, the Web site profootballtalk.com started a “Days Without an Arrest” counter, somewhat in jest. Rarely has it ever exceeded double digits.
Yet while we are repulsed by men who beat their wives in our community and go out of our way to avoid them, why are we so forgiving of our athletes? Forgiving to the point where we’ll wear their jerseys and cheer on their accomplishments? Something seems wrong with that.
But should it? Should what a person does off the field matter on the field? Unlike crimes like fixing games or gambling, off-field incidents don’t impact the credibility of the game. Really we shouldn’t be watching sports for role models – just to enjoy athletic competition at its finest.
So here’s where the personal hypocrisy comes in. I like Michael Jackson’s music – I always have (back in the day, I did own a glitter glove). And I don’t think I’d like it any less even if the child molestation charges were ever proven to be true. Just because I like Thriller, doesn’t mean I like child molesters
Less ambiguously, I like James Brown. James was repeatedly arrested for domestic violence, once pleading no contest to an incident. He was once charged with forcible rape. I still think Get on the Good Foot is an amazing song.
And how many artists, sculptors, architects, actors, authors, and other creative types whose work I enjoy have skeletons in their closet that I just don’t know about? Would it impact my enjoyment of their work? I think Robertson Davies’ Deptford Trilogy is about as good as literature gets – would that change if it suddenly came out that Davies went all Jeffrey Dahmer in the 1960s?
If you can be a fan of music without liking the artist, so too can you appreciate someone’s game, even if you find the athlete to be personally repugnant. So what’s the difference? Perhaps it’s the immediate intimacy of the interaction.
When I listen to a song on the radio or look at a painting, I’m removed from the immediate interaction with the artist. I’m listening to something that was recorded or viewing something that was painted in the past. I’m not actively cheering them on as they’re in the midst of their athletic pursuit.
Or maybe, when it comes to sports, I’m merely guilty by association, as well. Guilty of being a hypocrite.