Wednesday, August 22, 2007

MY DEAR TEVYA. WHERE ART THOU?

So let’s see. What is the range of my tolerance when it comes to my favorite escapist pastime, spectator sports?

I’ve put up with the willingness of sports leagues to let a few teams hog most of the league’s revenues and its available talent.

I’ve taken in with open arms all sorts of guys who have been caught exposing themselves in public. In fact, I’ve tolerated guys who violated the sex laws by land, by see, and most likely, in the air.

I’ve tolerated guys who have driven drunk, driven drunk some more, and then, after getting caught a second time, driven drunk again. I’ve tolerated guys who have taken every substance known to man, and even a guy who was caught with a “Whizonater” device designed to beat drug tests.

I’ve accepted one weapons-related conviction after another. I’ve put up with athletes who’ve broken the law in connection with weapons that are fired.

I’ve accepted various types of assault – sexual and otherwise. I’ve accepted just about every kind of spousal or girlfriend abuse.

I’ve tolerated tax fraud … and guys who obstruct justice.

I’ve tolerated it all because, you know, we should show compassion to people who make mistakes, give them another chance, and help them find redemption. Right?

Well … more likely, I’ve put up with it all because I really love sports. And besides, even a thin pancake has two sides, and there are usually at least two sides to every human drama.

Perhaps that explains why the great literary character Tevya the Dairyman always analyzed problems by saying “On the one hand … but on the other hand …” Tevya was wise -- a true progressive relative to his society, even though we can look at his time and place as antiquated. Every now and then, though, even Tevya recognized that “there is no other hand.” Sometimes you just have the draw the line and say “HELL NO!”

Congratulations, Michael Vick. You’ve finally figured out a way to persuade me to boycott my beloved football.

I’m not talking about boycotting right away. After all, the good man appears to be headed to prison and then a likely suspension by the league. But let’s look at, say, 2010. Vick will still be around 30, with plenty of strength left in his legs. He might not be able to play QB, but he surely would be able to return kicks, and perhaps even catch passes. The question is whether the league will let him. Or, more to the point, will the league feel sufficiently intimidated by the power of the animal-rights advocates to stop the league from doing what it invariably seems to want to do, which is to tolerate crime after crime after crime as long as the perpetrators can flat out play football?

Truth be told, there are signs that the new NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, might actually care a bit about maintaining some semblance of moral standards in his league. His initial months on the job suggest that he is willing to suspend players, like PacMan Jones, whose recidivism seems to know no bounds.

But Michael Vick is not a recidivist. And by 2010, the likelihood is that he will have “served his time.” So why not let him play? That’s the knee-jerk jock reaction. It’s been on display constantly whenever ESPN conveys a bevy of ex-players and coaches. All they talk about is how (a) Vick is a good guy who was led astray by his loyalty to the “wrong” friends, and (b) Vick is a brilliant enough athlete that he’ll still have something left once he’s done his duty to the society.

OK. I left something out. The ESPN mavens recognize that there is another side to the equation. After talking ad nauseam about our need for compassion for Michael Vick -- as if he (the Platonic form of the “loyal friend”) is the true victim here -- they briefly give a nod to the existence of those who would protest his return to the league. If you tune into Sports Center, you’re likely to hear from time to time about the “circus” that a team might walk into by signing Vick. Of course, that doesn’t mean you’d be told just why people would protest, or how broad the coalition of protesters would be. And you sure won’t be told that there exist legions of REAL AMERICAN FANS who would actually join in those protests and feel compelled to avoid watching any game in which Vick is a participant. But this much won’t be denied: legions of faceless, nameless, fringe types are out there, hell bent to make sure that this misguided but redeemable man will never again do what he’s been put on God’s green earth to do.

I guess I’m one of those of fringers.

In the event you’re one too, here are some suggestions. Write to the Commissioner of the NFL and tell him what you think. Both PETA and the Humane Society have made it easy to do so. Go on their web sites or just google “e-mail Goodell Vick.” And, during business hours, don’t forget to call the NFL at 1-212-450-2000. Let them know you care. And, if applicable, let them know that you’re a big time football fan who is willing to stop watching as soon as Vick starts playing.

What Michael’s apologists don’t understand is that there are large numbers of us who are deeply affected by cruelty to animals and who don’t want to be reminded of such cruelty when we sit back to watch a ball game. Will Michael do his time? Apparently so. But does that mean that we animal lovers are satisfied that our society has imposed sufficient punishments for animal cruelty? Of course not. And even if we were satisfied that the prison term for Vick will be adequate, that still doesn’t relate to the fundamental point here: leaving prison after you’ve served your prison sentence is a right. But playing in the NFL is a privilege. You get fame. You get fortune. You can all sorts of exposure – more exposure than 99.9% of us get.

Tell me, why is this SOB deserving of such exposure? Why is he entitled to that privilege? Let him serve his time and enjoy the millions he has already made. I’d sincerely wish him a good life once he is released. But please, let’s also allow the rest of us to sit back, have a beer, pet our family dog (or dogs) and enjoy an afternoon of football. Don’t force us to stop watching simply because we love dogs so deeply. We’ve suffered enough from that guy already, and so have our best friends.

2 comments:

Finding Fair Hope said...

Indeed the story of Michael Vick is a strange one. In a way he's like Mike Tyson, an unsocialized animal -- perhaps sociopath is the word I'm looking for -- who had enough physical prowess to qualify him as a gladiator for our day, but not the basic instinct for life that would allow him that place in the firmament.

Unlike you, I am indifferent to sports, and my reaction is simply that this guy doesn't deserve to get back on the field. Are there no other players, at least nearly as talented and not so lacking in the kind of conscience that sports are supposed to engender? Isn't there anyone who, in other words, who could do the job better, or as well, who might serve as the kind of hero our sportsmen once were expected to be? Or is it all about winning?

Let him learn other skills in prison, rehabilitate him if possible, but remove him from the center of attention he so clearly doesn't understand and never will. Find him a job for which he can meet all the qualifications. Football can do without him.

Daniel Spiro said...

What's interesting from a football standpoint is that this dude will logistically not be able to return to the league for a couple of years at least. When he does, he will probably be worthless as a QB (he wasn't that great a pro QB anyway), but he would have some value as a kick returner or a receiver.

The question is, how much value is there to a team is an excellent kick returner who's also a decent receiver? Significant value yes, but not incredible value. So acquiring Vick would have a limited upside ... and just look at the downside from the standpoint of ticket sales and fan support.