Forgiving Michael Vick


I want to take a quick moment, and show you all one of the gifts that I got for Christmas.  This is a fantastic gift that will take my neurosis to a  whole new level.    It’s called the NIKE PLUS Sports Band.     I want to take a moment and show you all just how cool this gift is.

It is all built around a tiny little device, called the Nike Plus.   

 

 

Along with this little gadget you need an incredibly flashy pair of running shoes, like these:

 

(Note:   Besides being almost obnoxious in color, don’t they look fast to boot?)

Now, here is the genius of the plus;   you pull out the insole of your shoe and insert the device and you can get all kinds of data, wirelessly beamed up to your wrist.  

Then you pull a USB adapter out; plug it into your computer, and instantly all your runs, calories burned, effort, mileage and pace are wired up to cyberspace for safe keeping and bragging rights.

At first it seems too easy to be true, but it works.    All you have to do is enter your height, weight, and age, take a few steps, and boom! It tells you, that you are ready to run.   Somehow it counts the number of steps you take, calculates everything you need to know.  

You should see me with this thing going.   I try to fool it at the gym, by taking extremely small steps to convince it, that I have run a marathon, but somehow it knows. Like I said, it brings my neurosis to a brand new level.   

The NIKE Plus Sport Band and Snazzy Shoes are like the ALMOST perfect gift for runners.   I say ALMOST because in the end it is a NIKE product, and I have an enormous love hate relationship with this company.  If you have ever talked to me about Nike in the past, you would know how angry I was with something Nike did a little over two years ago.  

I very deliberately made the decision almost a year ago to shed all my NIKE products due to their endorsement of Michael Vick.    It wasn’t so much that I did not believe in the ability for a man to make good on past crimes, but rather spoke to my disappointment with NIKE.

It started long before Vick came crashing front and center. Well over two decades ago, NIKE found themselves as part of the sweat shop scandals of the mid 1980 and 90s.    It turns out they had deliberately chosen to manufacture their shoes in some of the poorest places of the world, and do so for pennies a shoe.    Instantly my stomach churned at the thought.     Shame on them, I thought.  I started to see them as the proverbial face of evil, corporate America.

Yet, amidst the pressures of an angry shoe buying public, NIKE started to change.   They were one of the first companies to create large departments with large budgets focused on Social and Corporate Responsibility.   The changes were quick and impactful.    Millions upon millions of dollars has left the coiffeurs at Nike and made its way to underdeveloped countries, non profits, inner city missions, and schools across the globe.

They soon became the example of what a company could be.    Although far from perfect, they were trying.   In the end, I found that refreshing.    In the end, all we could do is ask that others try;  try to be different and to make a difference.

Then, enter Michael Vick.

Vick was the new face of the National Football League and a role model for millions.    His was a story of a young boy growing up in the Ridley Public Housing Project in Newport News Virginia.   His parents were on welfare, and on his front stoop drive by shootings, drug dealing and violence were common place.    As a kid he dreamed of being a professional fisherman, as fishing was his escape from the violent neighborhood he grew up in.    He used to put his hook into the dirtiest of water, just to be away from his neighborhood.    Eventually, he chose football over fishing.   

At football he was a star.   He was drafted by Virginia Tech, broke all kinds of record and started to grow in popularity.    He was third in the Heisman Trophy balloting while in college, and he was drafted first overall in 2001 by the Falcons.  Atlanta quickly started building a team around him. 

Sadly, a great deal of it, if not all of it went to his head.   Soon the size of his ego exceeded his talent.  That is a dangerous situation.

Due to that enormous ego, the world was not entirely surprised when they learned that he was an investor in an illegal dog fighting operation with his cousin.   The world was shocked, however, by the barbaric way he treated those dogs though.    The cruelty of this man towards his dogs was immense, and he was eventually sentenced to 21 months in prison, and two months of house arrest for his crime.   Along the way, he went bankrupt.   He lost his career, his home, and the respect of a nation, if not a world.   To be honest, there was little sympathy or compassion from me on this.

When he finished his prison sentence, he chose to start over.   In 2010 he became the starting quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles and was named the 2010 comeback player of the year, and was named to the Pro Bowl.   As his reputation started to return so did the endorsements.  

When NIKE signed him again, I was angry.    I was mad that NIKE had made it back from the sweat shop scandals only to once again throw it all away with the likes of Michael Vick.  It made me sick to my stomach.

I remember calling NIKE, telling them that all my NIKE gear would now be trashed…and that’s what I did.   I was angry and there would be no way my hard earned income would find its way into NIKE or Vick’s pockets. 

Today, now that it is two years later, and in my gym bag, I find two new NIKE products, I can’t help but ask had anything changed or did I just forget?   Are my principles less intense than my desire to own the new fancy gadget?   What happened?

Over the last few weeks, I have struggled with this.

 It wasn’t until just recently that I started to remember that I am a follower of Jesus, who is a God of Second chances.   I am a person who believes in the power of forgiveness and fresh starts.     If I truly believe that, how can I reconcile what I believe with my anger and resentment towards both Vick and NIKE?   

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to me.  A few months ago, I remember a turning point.  Like the rubber-necker at the accident scene, I decided to download the 10 episode documentary entitled “The Michael Vick Project” which televised his attempts to revive his career.     In that series, I saw a genuine regret, shame, and desire to make things right and doubt started to creep in.   I was still angry, but perhaps in watching that series, the ground work for my eventual return to the world of Nike was laid.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a foul taste that Vick still illicit in me.

Today, I see Michael Vick and I still see what he did to those dogs.    I see in Vick, what is wrong with our country, our sons, and the sport that I love.    I still get angry when I see the pictures of the saved dogs in a newspaper or magazine.    Part of me is convinced that he got off easy in light of the fate of those dogs.

But… and there is always a but…

I also recognize something that NIKE seemed to have embraced that I, as a pastor and follower of Jesus failed to see.  

When asked about the decision, NIKE officials issued a very clear cut response to the controversy, which I never discovered until much, much later; 

“We, under no circumstance support or condone the past decisions of Michael Vick,” NIKE commented, “but sometimes forgiveness is only possible when another is willing to take a second chance.”   They continued:  “sure, we might hurt because of it, or we might gain immensely, but we believe we are called to be about second chances to people trying to make a change.    Should we all be willing, now that we told Vick he was wrong, to listen to see if Vick has said he has heard?  Truth be told the power of redemption is seen in proportional levels to how far the redeemed have fallen, and few have fallen further.”

So there we have it.   

I read the statement and wondered.  

I wondered why when I was calling for the life time imprisonment of Michael Vick, NIKE was able to act more like a Christian than I.

Sitting back and thinking about it, maybe there is finally SOME forgiveness on my part available to Michael Vick.  At the same time, I think that point when I can freely give it is miles away.  While I still look at him and see the face of a dog beater, I feel compelled, by the nature of my faith, to be willing to let him prove me wrong again.  I feel compelled, while part of me, still wants the jury to be out a little while longer.

I want to be ready to offer Michael Vick forgiveness because I want to be more Christ like in my walk…but I still see the faces of those dogs.

I want to be ready to offer forgiveness for the vile acts of this man because if I can forgive a man that did this horrible things…but nothing directly to me….maybe,…just maybe…  I can forgive those who did bad things to me….   

Or maybe, better yet,  I can forgive myself for the stupid things I’ve done.

I want to be ready to offer Michael Vick forgiveness because I want to experience what a life fully lived in Christ is like, and I can’t do that until I am willing to let go of the reality of all the past hurts, past mistakes, and past shames of my own life. 

If I am ready to admit that freedom from the crap of the past is available to Vick, than its available to me too.  When I close my eyes and see the images of the mistakes I’ve made I know that I want them gone.   I won’t be able to fully recognize that ours is a God that erases the past guilt, embarrassment, and shame of all of our lives until I can offer it to myself.

Although I am ready, I am not there.   Maybe part of me doesn’t want to forgive.  I certainly cannot envision forgetting.    Maybe it’s because there is something bigger than football, and fame.  Maybe when I give my forgiveness to Vick, I can’t see past my own dogs…   or maybe I can’t see past my own mistakes.

Maybe I am wrapping up forgiveness in the separate concept of fairness.  Maybe I want more punishment and less love.

 Then again, maybe its more about me not being ready to fully being ready to admit that I am a new creature in Christ, and as such there are implications and responsibilities due to that fact.   Maybe I am not ready to let go of the same old same old.  

Maybe I am hesitant to admit that I was made new, but that’s for me, and not Michael Vick.  

I believe, with every ounce of my being, that forgiveness is more something we do for ourselves than for others.  In the end, there is nothing easy about it.   It’s hard and its unnatural.   Maybe that’s precisely why we need to be about it.    If it was easy and without effort, would it be worth doing?  If I don’t accept the possibility of another being a new person, can I ever expect to view myself that way?    When I see myself in the mirror do I see the man before my own Damascus road experience or the man after?    

I wish that when I lace up my shoes on the sidewalk or in the gym and I see that swoosh, I didn’t think of Vick with each step.   I wish I wasn’t thinking about the mistakes of years or decades past.  I wish I wasnt thinking of those dogs.

God, I wish this entire faith thing was easier, amen.

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2 Comments

  1. Hi! I realize this is sort of off-topic but I needed to ask.
    Does building a well-established blog like yours take a
    lot of work? I am completely new to writing a blog but I do write
    in my journal daily. I’d like to start a blog so I can share my own experience and thoughts online. Please let me know if you have any kind of ideas or tips for brand new aspiring blog owners. Thankyou!

  2. pastorscott2007

     /  June 6, 2013

    First…”Write, write, and write” is best tip I can give you. Be relevant, frequent, and post! The more meat you have, the more you offer, the more folks tend to respond and your “followers” grow.

    Secondly and more importantly, make it a labor of love. It took a long time for a base to be developed here, but along the way the blog became the “leather clad” journal that I could visit again and again.

    The site has been a way to recharge, understand, contemplate, discern and rationalize the craziness in my day to day. Today,… If all the readers decided to boycott JesseLeeProject I would still return, and write as frequently. It is my prescription for sanity… and some small mark I can leave.

    Hopefully that helps… God bless your efforts! And keep us in the Loop! Scott.

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