beauty after the beast: a few thoughts on michael vick, second chances & raising children

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Monday, January 10th, 2011

michael vick

beauty after the beast: a few thoughts on michael vick, second chances & raising children

yesterday afternoon, the philadelphia eagles were defeated by the green bay packers in the wild card round of the nfl playoffs. last year, i really wouldn’t have cared. in fact, in the past, i’ve actively rooted against the eagles (especially during those terrell owens years…). as a niners fan, the eagles have done little more than stand in the way of our success. so, yesterday’s loss should have been a meaningless one for me.

but it wasn’t.

i was rooting for the eagles. rooting hard. rooting for them to march to the super bowl and pull off the unlikely championship.

and quite frankly, me rooting for them came down to one single player. a player who is both vaunted and hated by legions of football fans and non-fans alike. that player, of course, is the oft-debated, michael vick.

but wait, before we talk too much football, let’s talk about beauty and the beast. yeah, that’s right, beauty and the beast.

a few months ago, disney re-released their 1991 classic, beauty and the beast, for a limited sales run. naturally, christen had to get it for the kids (that’s code language for, “she needed to get it for herself”…). 🙂 since we bought it, the girls have watched it approximately 743 times. and, of course, they love it. and quote it. and sing the songs. and pretend to be the characters. they’re sorta into it…

olive is particularly funny in her account of the movie to others. she pretty much sums it up in one sentence: “da be mean”. [translation: “the beast is mean”.] over and over. “da be mean.” “da be mean.” for olive, the lynchpin of the whole movie is that there’s a mean beast.

now, each time she tells me that, i’m quick to tell her, “but then he gets nice.” every so often, she’ll then tell me, “da be ni?” naturally, though, the very next time she tells me about the movie (which might be an hour later), it’s right back to “da be mean”.

for olive—with her 2-year old singularity of understanding—it’s far too difficult for her to look beyond the majority of the movie that depicts an overwhelming, overpowering, angry, intimidating beast. despite the fact that belle falls in love with said beast, when all is said and done, she simply remembers that “da be mean”.

she just can’t get over the first half of the movie. his big teeth and angry yell and ominous presence lingers in her mind and disallows her to build a mental equation of a beast who becomes tender and loving and gracious.

which, of course, brings me back to michael vick. (i think you know where this is going…) 🙂

there once was a beast who brutally tortured dogs. who bred them to fight until their death. and if they couldn’t perform up to his standards, he drowned them and electrocuted them and savagely killed them. this beast did unthinkable things.

da be mean.

unlike the movie, this beast was punished for his brutality. and it wasn’t just that he was punished, but he was severely punished. whether it was fair or not, he was made an example. they got someone who was immensely famous and they handed down a punishment that few would forget: 3 years in the state penitentiary. not county jail for 90 days. not 200 hours of community service. not even a few years of parole. but a maximum security federal prison.

in our society’s justice system, we expect people to serve their time and when they complete that time, they are free to re-integrate into society just like you and me. they have payed their proverbial debt to society.

but with vick, da be mean. still.

but the reality is that the scary, awful beast was mean. now he’s nice. now he speaks to children about animal cruelty being wrong. now he is openly repentant about his past actions. now he has become a model citizen in the nfl. now he uses his enormous platform in ways that are literally changing peoples’ lives. now he has turned his life around.

just like we should all hope to do.

but still, da be mean?

what has been most hard for me to stomach isn’t the reaction of the broader public. quite frankly, some will hate him no matter what while others will love him just because he knows how to score touchdowns. what’s been hardest is the reaction of the christian community.

of all people, christians should be the very first people to praise and lift up vick as a shining example of the core reality of our faith: i once was lost but now i’m found. was blind but now i see. i was broken but have been restored. i was in the dark but now i’ve found the light. i was enslaved to sin but now i’ve been freed.

vick is all those things. and not just in some kind of abstract sense, but a tangible example.

the fundamental story of christianity is about a god who gives people second chances. and not just because they’re really nice and good, but in spite of the fact that we still screw up. over and over and over.

we still sin. we still do mean things. we still say ‘shit’ too often. we still think terrible things about our bosses. we still take pens and staplers from work.

and we still proverbially (or maybe even literally) abuse and kill and do unthinkable things to animals.

or whatever your thing is. it doesn’t matter. fill in the blank. what have you done lately? probably something wrong and bad and not right. but it was probably not visible to the whole word. you probably didn’t get caught while being one of the biggest stars in the nfl. you probably weren’t made an example so that cnn could have a media frenzy for several months.

but michael vick did. and he served 2 years in a federal prison. that’s approximately 2 years more than baltimore ravens wide receiver donte stallworth. that name probably doesn’t ring a bell, does it? he’s the nfl player who was drunk driving and hit and killed a pedestrian. oh yeah, then he got sentenced to 30 days in jail. wait, an nfl player killed a human being and got 30 days of jail and no one bats an eye? yeah, that’s exactly right. killing dogs? absolutely atrocious, inexcusable and wrong. killing a human being? not even comparative to what michael vick did.

michael vick should be applauded for his repentance. sure, we should absolutely look back on what he did and warn others of the viciousness of his actions. we should look back on those dark days with sadness and remorse. we should still punish those who do the same thing. but michael vick has moved past that. he has admitted his wrong doing and he has paid an incredibly hefty fine.

my kids know who michael vick is. now, if you said his name to them out of the blue, they’d probably just look confused, but they have most certainly learned about him. they’ve sat (at least for a few minutes) a couple times and watched him play football on tv. i’ve told them that once upon a time a very mean beast did very mean things. he did things that they should never, ever do.

da be mean.

indeed he was. but that isn’t the end of the story. now? da be ni. he asked for forgiveness. he repented. he accepted his punishment. he has taken steps to actively reverse some of his mean actions. he is actively helping to change the course of young peoples’ lives.

he has embraced his second chance in life. and so should we.

and that’s exactly the way i want my children to live their lives. not only for themselves, but to remove the shackles from those who were, in fact, mean and are now nice.

and quite frankly, for those who were once mean and continue to be mean. they need our love and grace and mercy more than the beasts who turn their lives around.

for those who have never been given a second chance, continue to judge and wallow in unforgiveness. but for the rest of us—for most all of us—let us celebrate and be thankful for the still-unfolding story of michael vick and every former beast who has now become a thing of beauty.