Americans love a comeback. We pride ourselves as a country that offers second chances and opportunities for redemption, or—as critics might call it—reinvention. And it's true that one of the things that is refreshing about the United States is that even when you're down, financially, personally, professionally, or otherwise, the public almost always is willing to let you make another go of it.
The critical contributions on the part of the rehabilitated are contrition, discretion and some modesty. And unfortunately, those qualities are more commonly missing, as the culture of celebrity becomes further perverted to equate notoriety with accomplishment.
Former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer falls into this category. After it was revealed that Spitzer (who, as the state's chief law enforcement officer, prosecuted prostitution rings) was himself patronizing prostitutes, the normally-brash Spitzer bowed his head in shame, asking for forgiveness. And he rightly resigned. But soon afterward, Spitzer was tapped by CNN to cohost a political chatfest with Kathleen Parker, a stellar columnist who should not ever have been insulted by being asked to share a stage with Spitzer. Would Spitzer even have been asked, had he not distinguished himself by behaving badly? That's questionable. And Spitzer hadn't even spent time rebuilding his reputation, doing something—anything—to showcase another, more positive side of himself. The show was appropriately canceled.
And now, we have Michael Vick, the quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles and a convicted dog torturer. Vick, at least, had the decency to express deep shame for his dog-fighting activity. And, unlike Spitzer, Vick was punished by the criminal justice system with some time in jail. But Vick is still on public relations probation, and should learn to be more discreet.
Vick has been hurt twice already this season, the latter episode involving an injury to his non-passing hand. No one likes to see a player, especially a quarterback, injured, but it's hard to feel much sympathy for someone who deliberately caused pain in animals. It's difficult to not wonder if Vick's injury was by a dog that bit the hand that didn't feed him. But Vick went after the refs, accusing them of not calling penalties against the players who tackled him when similar penalties have been called in other games. He has a small point; at least one of the plays was arguably one that should have provoked a flag. But refs miss calls and make bad calls all the time. It's just whiny to blame referees for a loss or for an injury. And in Vick's case, it's worse, since the public is not yet ready to see him as a victim.
Vick has since backed off a little from his remarks, and that's wise. He should talk to his coach, and maybe to his teammates who are supposed to be protecting him on the field. Vick may well become another rehabilitated American sports hero. But he needs to keep his head down for awhile.