Whether you forgive Michael Vick or not, Bethlehem Shoals writes, his recent Nike endorsement is a sign that he’ll be allowed to leave his past behind.
Kick and scream all you want about Michael Vick’s Nike endorsement. With it, Vick has re-entered the mainstream. It’s chicken and egg whether we, the public, placed him there or were told to do so. Such are the vagaries. But Nike deciding, discreetly, to go with the Eagles quarterback (and one-time dog fighter) isn’t the problem. It’s a sign, a symptom. For those morally opposed to Michael Vick until the end of time, it’s about get real lonely.
I say none of this with the slightest bit of cynicism. The drive to forgive is almost as strong as our desire to tear the mighty down. If we think you’re guilty, you better pay for it (see: Casey Anthony and Nancy Grace). Perhaps we’re after just another spectacle, which explains public apologies and the insistence on admissions of guilt. But these are seen as insincere, and even court verdicts or jail time are insufficient proof of redemption. It’s a waiting game: We want to see people get better, but are too wary of public relations and spin. We want to forgive, we just don’t really know how.
Actually, that’s not entirely true. The saying “forgive and forget” refers to a two-step process. In theory, we decide everything’s cool, and then move on. But increasingly, skepticism keeps us from following the blueprint. A country divided along all sorts of cultural fault lines doesn’t help, either. We may have successfully reversed the process: Today, as in Vick’s case, we look to forget, then forgive. We laugh at press conferences and second-guess the canned quotations. Really, we just want to move on if we can.
Some people will never be able to forgive Michael Vick for what he did—because of what he did. It takes an almost inconceivably noble person to stare evil in the face and pay it no mind. That could be an overstatement. Then again, Vick’s tireless critics are usually dog owners, dog lovers, people whose bond with the canine race is stronger than usual. For them, every day is Vick killing pit bulls, over and over again. It’s simply impractical to expect them to be able to accept Michael Vick again. They can’t let go, which is fine, but they’re denying themselves the perfectly natural role that time plays in alleviating trauma, or grievances. Without it, we would all run around wanting to kill our neighbors over spilled milk.
Forgetting, on the other hand, is perfectly natural. The penal system’s “paid his debt to society”, however flawed in practice, proceeds from two assumptions: 1) time is worth something, and taking it from a man sends a message, and 2) the passage of time, with the offender taken out of sight and given time to think about what he’s done, ultimately rinses away all rancor. Of course, it doesn’t work out like that in practice, in large part because of how prisons are run, and the circumstances that land many inmates there to begin with. In Vick’s case, though, the glove fits.
Couples arguing are encouraged to take time-outs, simmer down, and come back together when they can discuss things rationally. I’m not suggesting that most arguments between couples involve murdered puppies (can an animal be murdered?), but our relationship with athletes and celebrities has a similar dynamic to it. Couples fight over things real and imagined, sometimes a bit of each. Stepping back allows the matters to pass. I guess that’s also the logic behind trial separations, except there it’s waiting for the entire relationship to pass, which of course makes no sense.
It doesn’t matter what Vick has said since returning to the NFL, even though everything of note has been pitch-perfect. The same goes for his actions; he’s an invaluable resource when it comes to educating fans on animal rights. The most important thing is that he’s allowed most of us to forget what he did, or at least allow it to fade sufficiently. The Nike endorsement may have outraged some, but Nike simply doesn’t make mistakes like that. They’re gradually easing Vick back into the spotlight, where he will inevitably end up soon. It’s the same strategy they took with Kobe Bryant. It’s not sneaky or dishonest. Rather, it’s following the progression we’ve come to expect of ourselves. We can only stay angry for so long. Then we’re conflicted. At some point, though, something newer, or more unpleasant comes along, and Vick—like any criminal allowed to get on with his life—is allowed to leave his past behind.
Nike isn’t some melodramatic redemption, or injustice in action. Nike just proves that the public’s way of moving on is forgetting. Not denial, suppression, or minimization. We forget so that we can forgive, and if we don’t, things get really ugly, really fast.