A few words on Michael VickNovember 18, 2010
Halfway through the NFL season Michael Vick is one of the leading candidates for the league’s Most Valuable Player award.
I think I am rooting for him.
And I wonder why this is.
I still have trouble wrapping my head around the crimes Vick committed. I still wonder if he genuinely understands how monstrous his actions were. I hope so, but if I had to guess I’d guess he’s still baffled, and probably aggrieved, at the punishment he was given. I would speculate that he still sees himself as a kind of victim. I hope I am wrong, but in any case Vick doesn’t owe me or anyone else a confession. He did his time. I hope he’s a better person, but knowing people I suspect he’s not.
Yet at least part of me wants to see him do well.
I could say this is because I am rooting for Vick’s example, that it might inspire others who’ve fallen from grace. Or I could say it is because I am for for forgiveness, for second and even third chances; that having benefited from mercy, I feel inclined to be merciful in turn. Sometimes I think this is even true.
I want to see Tiger Woods come back and win more major championships. I wish Bud Selig would reinstate Pete Rose (with conditions) and allow him to become eligible for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Maybe it is because I don’t have many illusions about sports and what makes people good at them. Athletes are not great because they have great character. Some of them are no doubt good people, but the best of them are all killers. They all own their specialness, even if they’ve feel to act humble.
Some sportswriters and some coaches encourage the myth that sports are somehow ennobling because it suits the way they want the world presented and received. Some of them need for sports to be more than sports and I suppose that is OK though I think it’s sentimental and cheap. I don’t think sports is a metaphor for anything, it simply — as the athletes say — is what it is.
That I care about sports means nothing more (or less) than other people caring about who wins an Academy Award or what celebrity is shagging what other celebrity.
So anyway, I guess I do not have to “like” Michael Vick to enjoy the way he plays his game. But I don’t really dislike him either. We have no relationship, he and I, for me he exists as a bunch of pixels flashing on a screen.
I have a job that regularly brings me into the orbit of the famous, and I can report to you that, for the most part, they are more like us than they are different. We are the same species. We are generally as spoiled and vain as they are.
But great athletes have a qualified coldness within themselves, a place where they can go where nothing matters so much as winning — which is really nothing more complicated than making their opponent lose.
There were lots of things I lacked as an athlete — speed, strength, fast twitch muscle fiber and I wish I’d had those attributes.
But I am glad I never cultivated that so-called “killer instinct” — however well it may have served me on the court it would have made living with myself hell. I have it in me to take my foot off the gas, to let someone who wants it more — who needs it more — win.
I’m not saying I didn’t always try, I’m just saying I can live with myself as second-best, that being beaten doesn’t particularly bother me. I like the competition, I like to play the game, but — count it a deficit if you must — the difference between winning and losing for me is not so vast.
I think it is OK to have heroes, but I think we should know that excellence in any particular endeavor doesn’t correspondence to moral distinction. Michael Vick is who he is because of what he’s done and what was done to him — he turned out differently than you or me and all of that is not his fault, or yours or mine.
I like this football player. I do not know this man.