Monday, December 20, 2010

Do we really, really, REALLY believe in redemption?

Celebrity creates today's morality plays -- dramas which present larger issues of good and evil couched in entertainment narrative. Celebrity romances can become our romances; celebrity sins, our sins. We, safely buffered by anonymity, can sit back and dissect and, oh yes, judge -- which, in my opinion, just might be our favorite societal pastime.

So, this post is really not about football, just because an NFL quarterback is starring in this particular modern amorality play -- one that asks us to decide whether or not a person can really change. Do we, or don't we, believe in the possibility of redemption?

Our "hero" in this particular morality play is Eagles quarterback Michael Vick.  In case you just woke up from a four-year nap, you'll need to be reminded that Vick served nineteen months in prison for torturing and killing dogs. He came out in 2009, into the cautiously waiting arms of  Tony Dungy (mentor) and Andy Reed (coach of the Philadelphia Eagles). Last year, Vick played both sporadically and spottily for the Eagles, showing precious little of the speed and mobility we Virginians first came to know when he played for Frank Beamer at Virginia Tech.

This year, after long-time Eagles starter Donovan McNabb's trade to the hapless Redskins and Kevin Kolb's injury and failure to perform, Michael Vick was named Philadelphia starter back in late September. And over the past three months, he has proceeded to outperform both his former self and, arguably, every other NFL player.

There is no argument that Michael Vick is a joy to watch on the football field. Yet the question I think a lot of us are still asking ourselves, whether we give a hoot about the sport of football or not, is:  Are we witnessing chump change or real redemption? What are we fair-minded, law-abiding, relatively compassionate, no-nonsense, essentially ethical people to make of this guy? Is it okay for us to wish him well and enjoy watching him play football?

Michael Vick's former behavior was brutal, inexcusably and unjustifiably immoral and cruel. Sure, he served his time. Sure, he goes around to schools and makes speeches.  But, so what? Does he, we ask ourselves, deserve our forgiveness? Does anyone who's done something really, really bad, ever deserve our forgiveness?


Celebrities as characters in morality plays. We, the audience, as judge and jury. What a pinched, mean-spirited part we ask ourselves to play in these dramas, don't we? I think the real question we should be asking ourselves is what are we doing to ourselves by accepting it?

This means that the important moral question for me asked by the Michael Vick Morality Play is not whether "our hero" is better off if I accept the possibility of his redemption, but whether or not I'm better off if I accept that redemption is generally possible. And here's perhaps the greatest challenge -- that Michael Vick's personal business is none of mine.

 Hank Williams, one of my favorite moralists, puts it this way:
Minding other people's business seems  to be high-toned. 
But I've got all that I can do just minding my own.
A compulsion to judge others is such a heavy load to tote, don't you think?

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