On Thursday Michael Vick signed a 2-year contract with the Philadelphia Eagles. The first year will pay him $1.6 million and the second, if the Eagles keep him, pays $5.2M. The Eagles already have an all-pro quarterback in Donovan McNabb, but the addition of Vick makes the Eagles a very, very potent offensive football team. If you’re a football fan, the thought of McNabb, Vick, and Brian Westbrook in the backfield all together is crazy to think about.
Signing a free agent during the pre-season would normally be no big deal. You’re perhaps reading this and wondering why I am even writing a post about football! This particular free agent acquisition is one of great interest, though, because of the moral and ethical dimension to the signing that has caused a lot of controversy.
For anyone who has had their head buried in the sand for the last two plus years, Vick just finished a 23-month sentence in federal prison for running a dog fighting operation. He was released a month or so ago, and after a good bit of intrigue in football circles landed in Philadelphia. There will be people protesting the presence of Vick at Eagles training camp, and he will hear from the crowd in every game he plays in the NFL.
The question is the moral and ethical side of the signing. Vick is absolutely an asset on the field, being a 3-time Pro Bowl selection. However, some feel that having him back in the league lets him off the hook and implies that what he did was okay. There are many who believe that the NFL is shameful for letting him once again be a role model for kids after what he did. Playing in the NFL is a privilege not a right, and no one should be given a chance to make that kind of money and have that kind of celebrity after behaving so heinously.
There is no question that Vick participated in some horrible abuse of animals, and that the dogs in question were helpless victims deserving of protection and not exploitation. In Genesis 1 and 2 Adam is given the responsibility to care for creation, not abuse it, so this sort of thing should be viewed as intolerable. There is no excuse for what he did, and Vick has done nothing but admit his guilt.
But let’s put this in perspective. Another NFL player just killed a man while driving drunk. Dante Stallworth served 24 DAYS in jail (he pled guilty to DUI manslaughter) and will be suspended for the 2009 season. So for killing a person (and please, no arguments that it was not purposeful; drinking and driving is purposeful) a 24 day sentence and a year without pay is appropriate, while killing dogs is a heinous crime worthy of a 2-year sentence and then banishment for life? I don’t get it. Stallworth is already a kajillionaire; he will be just fine without the paycheck. His Bentley is wrecked (yeah, he was driving his Bentley), but it will get fixed. He settled out of court with the family, so everything is behind him and he gets to watch this season on his HDTV and be in excellent shape next year.
There is another dimension to this as well; it is a theological issue. Vick has done his time, none of it in “Club Fed.” (He spent time in Leavenworth…) He has been released from prison and forced to pay restitution in large amounts. The federal government determined an appropriate punishment, and he has paid that punishment. The path for him to pay his debts is through the skills he can market in the NFL.
He has apologized and seemed genuinely remorseful for his behavior; maybe sitting and thinking of all that his actions cost him has given him perspective. Sure, it could all be a careful facade maintained by a good PR firm, but it seems that he is genuine. Though we cannot tell for sure, there is always the chance at redemption. We must never get so jaded that we aren’t willing to give someone a second chance.
I think that this attitude seeps into our lives as Christians far too often. We don’t want to offer forgiveness. We want to hold it against someone when they sin and make them really prove that they are sorry by relegating them to second-class status. Christians who fall prey to sexual temptation and all that goes with it, to greed, to lust, to envy, to a host of public sins are seldom offered forgiveness. What would happen if a deacon’s wife in your church stood up and confessed an abortion in her past? Would the church rally to her, or shun her? What if a leader confessed a serious gambling problem or a pornography addiction? Would we seek forgiveness, healing, and restoration or justice?
We talk about the grace of God and forgiveness, but if we hold onto it so tightly with others can we really say that we understand it truly?
In 1 John 1:9 we are told that when we confess our sin God will forgive it. In Galatians 2:11-13 we read of Peter sinning and leading others astray; this same man, after restoration, wrote two books in the New Testament and was one of the most important figures in Christianity. In Acts 15:37-39 John Mark abandoned Paul, yet in 2 Timothy 4:11 Paul requests Mark’s presence. Paul forgave him at some point and gave him another chance to serve with him.
In Exodus 2:12 Moses murders a man. Yet in Exodus 3 that murderer is the man (after a long time away from home) God uses to free His people. In 2 Samuel 11 David commits the sins of adultery, plotting, lying, and murder. Yet God still, after David’s repentance (read Psalm 51 and see also 2 Samuel 12:13), restored him and used him in a great way.
I can see the same in my own life. I had no redeeming qualities that would make God want to use me. I had nothing but sin and depravity (Isaiah 64:6; Jeremiah 17:9) to offer God. And yet, with all of my sin, Jesus Christ died for me. (Romans 5:8) He owed me nothing, and had every reason to hold my sin against me. And yet because of His great love He redeemed me.
I look at my redemption before God, and I pray that Michael Vick has found the same. I pray as well that we would find it in ourselves to offer the grace of God that we have been given to the people in our lives who sin, even in big ways. With repentance comes restoration and redemption, no matter how we view the sin committed.
So this season, I will be rooting for Michael Vick. I hope he is able to recapture some of the magic that he brought to the NFL. More than that, I hope he uses this second chance to right the wrongs and tell the world that with repentance, restoration can occur. Show us all, Mike, that we can overcome our past and turn our lives around.