Monday, August 17, 2009

The Vilifed Villain

Unless you are complete anti-fan of sports and the media, you have probably heard at least something in the past week or so about Michael Vick being reinstated to play in the NFL and being signed by the Philadelphia Eagles. I have not been purposely following the public’s reaction to this, only eavesdropping. But I have seen a few different things that have really made an impact on me.

1) Tony Dungy is a remarkable man.

This coming from a New England Patriots fan. While he coached the Colts, I knew that Dungy had a fairly outspoken faith. He wrote a book that all Christian football fans seemed to “eat” up. My understanding was that Dungy, of his own accord, went to visit Vick in prison. Maybe he saw it as his responsibility to act as a spiritual mentor to Vick. The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:11, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up.” Tony Dungy has surely done this with Vick. Regardless of any personal feelings that one may or may not have for Dungy, what he has done is to be obedient to his biblical calling.

I know that there are some who have called him a “media hound” for having jumped into a situation that he was not directly involved in, but that is worldly talk. Remember Paul’s words that the gospel is foolishness to those who are perishing, the concept of what Dungy has done is so foreign to most people that it’s no wonder that they have accused him of being selfish, that’s the only way that some of them would have jumped into a situation like this, if they knew that they would get something out of it.

I believe that what Dungy has done for Vick is a model that the church can use in handling situations of accountability and church discipline. I can’t think of a more redemptive way of dealing with this situation than what Dungy has done. If our churches would only start fostering the kind of discipleship that encourages people to come and walk alongside people who have made mistakes, this world would be a much better place.

2) Michael Vick is not out of the woods yet.

While the road to recovery has begun for Vick, he still has a long way to go. There are so many skeptics out there who are probably just watching in hopes of seeing him fall again. I was having a conversation with some friends the other night and one of them mentioned that in getting involved with all the dog-fighting activities, he was just being true to the environment that he had been raised in, living the “thug” life. Can you take the “thug” out of Vick? No, but God can. That is what true transformation is all about, it’s the new creation that Paul speaks of, the putting off of the old self and taking on a new persona, the persona of one who is following hard after God.

I think that’s why the relationship with Dungy is so key. Vick is not going to succeed on his own, he needs help and more importantly, accountability. Dungy can be that for him if Vick allows him to be. I can imagine that Dungy won’t tolerate a lot though, he has been gracious, but I am sure, based on his coaching history, that he will pursue the goal of being a redemptive factor in Vick’s life as if both of their lives depended on it. While it would seem silly to me for Vick to even think about going back to his old ways of getting involved in any kind of activities involving animals and fighting, I have never been in his shoes before, and can’t even remotely understand what the draw was to it to begin with. But in plain and simple English: he would have to be an idiot to even think about going back there again.

Many people have said that there’s no such thing as a third chance, which again, is a fairly worldly concept, but I think it’s a fairly accurate statement from where Vick sits. To make another mistake of the proportion that he did before would only him to be completely ostracized by the world, more than he already has been.

3) Killing dogs vs. killing people.

At the risk of being put on PETA’s blacklist, if we cry out against killing dogs shouldn’t we also do the same for babies who are murdered every day? I am not saying that I support cruelty to animals, but what I am saying is “be consistent.” If we are going to make such a stand against hurting and killing animals, a stand which I think is well-justified, we should make equally or more of a stand for human rights. When we start valuing the lives of animals over people, we continue to show ourselves as to a world that has truly lost its way.

Michael Vick made a mistake, some would say that it was a stupid mistake, but he has paid the penalty that our court system has said that he needs to pay. He has been released from prison and hopes to become a “productive member of society” again. Can we stop vilifying the guy and start encouraging him? I wonder how the people who have been so adamantly outspoken against Vick would react if they were in his shoes, what would they do? Would they hope that everyone would vilify them as well, giving them no benefit of the doubt whatsoever? I doubt it. So, give the guy a chance, and if you’re a follower of Christ, pray for him, that he might stay on the path of righteousness.

4) Only time will tell.

Ultimately, only time will tell what will happen with Vick. He could become one of the greatest comeback stories in sports history. I think we all have smiled a little bit when we have watched those kinds of stories on TV. Vick has the opportunity to make a serious impact to the world, and especially to the younger generations. Unfortunately, we have elevated athletes to a place in our country where we discourage education in favor of millions of dollars. It seems like a no-brainer when you look at it, especially if you were raised with next to nothing. But here’s an opportunity for Vick to show some of the younger generation, who has idolized athletes like him, that everyone makes mistakes and not only admitting your mistake, but changing your lifestyle is essential to moving on.

Maybe you have seen the press recently on Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers. He was one of those stories. He made a huge impact at the 2008 All-Star Game and there were stories around where he had come from. He came back from an addiction to drugs and alcohol to be a signed Major League baseball player. And he’s a pretty impressive player, at that.

Apparently, last January, while preparing for the following season, Hamilton went into a bar to get something to eat. He ended having a drink that turned into about 10 or 12 drinks and was pretty wasted. Once the news broke that this had happened, people started coming out against Hamilton. They said that he should quit playing baseball, that he had committed the “unforgiveable” sin, and other wonderfully encouraging things.

Hamilton held a press conference to discuss what had happened, the details of what he said can be found here:
Josh’s wife said this in a statement on a blog, “Josh is a wonderful man, father and husband who happens to be human. We are all flawed and that's why we need a Savior.” More of her words can be found here:

There seem to be a lot of similarities between Vick and Hamilton and I think that Vick can gain some insight from Hamilton’s success and recent mistakes as well. People will only be looking for Vick to fail, like it or not, he needs to be living a life above reproach, even taking Paul’s words in 1 Timothy to heart in how he lives. The slightest misstep on his part will “seal the deal” for him in the public’s eyes, and like Hamilton, Vick will be criticized and vilified even if he makes a mistake and admits it. So the best option is to just not make those kinds of mistakes anymore.

I really think that this whole situation is such a great example of the need for community within the Body of Christ. Despite what kind of advice the world might throw at us, we cannot live our lives as islands, independent of other people, and think that we will stay “clean and sober.” The only way to live a life that is above reproach is to make yourself accountable to someone. We are called to encourage one another and build each other up, that’s not a suggestion! Regardless of whether you know Michael Vick or Josh Hamilton, they are part of the same body and so, we should be praying for them.

My prayer is that God can use these guys with their successes and their failures to make an impact for His kingdom and His glory. Our treasure is in jars of clay, fragile and sometimes broken vessels which house the glory and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ who has saved us into the community of God. May we all learn to walk in community as we strive to live lives above reproach.

1 comment:

  1. Yes Jon, I am a "complete anti-fan of sports and the media" so to honest, all I read was "blah, blah blah.....prison...blah, blah..jars of clay....blah, blah blah."

    I'm sure this made lots of sense to those who know what you're talking about.

    Keep at it.