On Second Chances: Ted Williams vs. Michael Vick

Ted Williams was all the rage these last couple of days in the blogosphere and on cable news. In case you happen to be living under a rock this past week, Ted Williams is the homeless man who was a former radio announcer with a “golden voice” who fell into trouble with drugs and alcohol. Williams lost everything in 1993 and became homeless, only to have his life change this week when a video of him demonstrating his God given talent on the side of a Columbus, Ohio highway went viral.

Well, within a couple of days of the above video getting national exposure, Mr. Williams was offered a job as an announcer for the Cleveland Cavaliers, and was even invited on The Today Show and asked to do the opening voice-over for the show.

So, why has America fallen in love with Ted Williams? Simple. Americans love the story of an underdog making good–and, we are all about giving people second chances. (See the hit movies Rocky, Braveheart, Invincible, The Pursuit of Happyness and Rudy as examples of American’s love of second chances and redemption.) In fact, America, was, literally, built by tired, huddled masses of people coming to a new land in order to get a second chance. I think that the movie Kingdom of Heaven sums up the American spirit–with regard to second chances–best (even though the film takes place in Medieval Europe/Jerusalem) when Balian’s father (Liam Neeson) tells Balian (Orlando Bloom) that, even though he’s been charged with a crime and his wife has committed suicide, he can redeem himself by going to Jerusalem to fight the Crusade. To be specific, Balian’s father said the following about Jerusalem:

“There, you are not what you were born, but what you have it in yourself to be.”

Yes, and in America, you are not what you were born–or what you might have been–but what what you have it in yourself to be. Ted Williams might have been a former drug addict and petty criminal who was cheerfully panhandling by the highway hoping to get a second chance at life (and not blaming anyone for his mistakes but himself), but today, he is a national celebrity known for his “golden voice”. He is the quintessential Prodigal Son.

Naturally, all of this talk of second chances makes one think of Michael Vick. Michael Vick was the man with with not only a golden arm, but golden legs as well (which is unusual for a quarterback). However, when he played football for the Atlanta Falcons (prior to going to prison for dog fighting), he was not exactly a model player. Vick was known as a slacker who was frequently late for practice, he was busted for pot possession at the airport, and he was even fined for flipping off the Atlanta Falcons fans. So, when Vick’s dog fighting scandal broke, it was especially shocking–particularly because he had been given so much and so many chances before. As it says in the book of Luke:

“To whom much is given, of him much will be required.”

And, Michael Vick was given a lot–a whole lot. He is gifted with an incredible talent, and was given millions of dollars in contracts and endorsements. And how did he pay back his fellow Americans who made him rich and famous by buying tickets to his games? Vick paid them back not by, say, volunteering in a homeless shelter, but by fighting, torturing and murdering dogs (i.e., man’s best friend). To quote the LA Examiner (H/T Adrienne’s Corner):

According to the prosecutor’s statement of facts in the case, between 2002 and 2007 Michael Vick and his co-conspirators Purnell Peace, Quanis Phillips and Tony Taylor killed thirteen dogs by various methods including wetting one dog down and electrocuting her, hanging, drowning and shooting others and, in at least one case, by slamming a dog’s body to the ground.

Michael Vick didn’t make a mistake. He didn’t “make a bad choice.” Over a period of five years he forced dogs into deadly fights, and he personally killed, or conspired to kill, thirteen dogs. He didn’t pick a quick, painless method of killing, but instead chose a variety of means that qualify as torture. Pit Bulls are powerful dogs. Imagine how hard you would have to work to kill a Pit Bull by forcibly drowning him.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution also reports, “Sometimes [the dogs] were starved to make them more vicious in the pit.”

And Michael Vick didn’t confine the abuse and killing to his own Pit Bulls.

According to a November 2008 ESPN.com news story, a report prepared by the USDA’s inspector general-investigations division revealed that Vick, Purnell Peace, Quanis Phillips and Tony Taylor also put family pet dogs into the ring with trained pit bulls.

The report, dated Aug. 28, 2008, says, “Vick, Peace and Phillips thought it was funny to watch the pit bull dogs belonging to [Vick’s] Bad Newz Kennels injure or kill the other dogs.”

[Adrienne has some pictures of Michael Vick’s extracurricular activities–warning, the photos are gruesome.]

On a personal note, when this story about Michael Vick’s atrocities exploded, it hit me particularly hard. My dog Molly (who was a rescue dog) had recently been diagnosed with a fibrosarcoma of her lower jaw and had to have part of her lower jaw surgically removed. Well, a few months later her cancer came back and she was given just months to live–even with chemotherapy. However, being the fighter that she was, she held on for almost two years and passed away a little over a year ago. So, when I heard about Michael Vick–a man who had been given so much–torturing and murdering healthy dogs while my dog was fighting for her life…well, let’s just say that I had very strong feelings of dislike for Mr. Vick. (Below are some pictures of Molly.)

So, when President Obama called the owner of the Philadelphia Eagles (Mr. Vick’s current team) to praise him for “giving Michael Vick a second chance”, it kind of stuck in my craw a bit (just like it did with a lot of people). I mean, Michael Vick is not exactly your average felon–i.e., someone from the wrong side of the tracks who never got a break in life or got addicted to drugs, etc. On the contrary, he’s gotten plenty of breaks in life. To quote Richard Cohen:

“Vick got a second chance not because he deserves it but because he can play football. This is the lesson we can all take from this sorry episode. It’s one thing to be sorry. It’s much better to hit your man in the end zone”.

However, the good news is that not all athletes feel the same sense of entitlement that Michael Vick seemed to feel. Some actually get the whole, “To whom much is given, much is expected” thingy. Meet Rudy Favard. Allahpundit wrote about him a couple of days ago. He is just a senior in high school and the captain of his high school football team, but already, he understands just how lucky he is to have a healthy, strong body–so he helps out a family with a disabled son by carrying him up the stairs every night, because the father is too weak from heart surgery. (Drats–why is there water on my keyboard?)

So, in conclusion, Michael Vick might not “deserve” a second chance, but this is America and he’s got a lot of talent, so he gets one anyway. But you know what, I’m not that upset that he’s getting a second chance. Heck, it might turn out quite well in the long run. Just like Balian in Kingdom of Heaven who went from a criminal to a valiant knight/defender of Jerusalem, Michael Vick might go from an animal abuser to a very strong spokesman against cruelty to animals. Maybe his redemption is sincere–that’s for God to say, not for any of us to judge. After all, as Alex Knepper recently pointed out, Chris Brown (who beat up his girlfriend Rhianna last year) already seems to be blowing his second chance by taunting victims of sexual abuse on Twitter. Hey, at least Michael Vick appears to be doing all of the right things and showing public remorse for his crimes.

So I will take a deep breath and give Michael Vick his second chance–and I will hope that he has truly seen the error of his ways. However, please don’t ask me to forgive him just yet (I hope to eventually–forgiveness is good for the soul), and please, for the love of God, don’t ask me to celebrate him. No, right now, I prefer to celebrate Ted Williams and Rudy Favard. Hearing about their stories makes me feel good. With regard to Michael Vick, I will just cross my fingers and hope for the best.

This column is cross-posted from Parcbench, and it is also posted at The Green Room, The Minority Report and Hillbillypolitics.

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