Redemption Wrong

November 19th, 2010  |  by  |  Published in Uncategorized

Because we’re creeping up on 1) the one-year anniversary of Tiger Woods’s libidinal meltdown and 2) the weekend after Michael Vick absolutely chain-choked the Redskins on national TV, I’ve been thinking a bit about the ongoing rehabilitation of both of these men. They’re taking two very different paths, and one of them is succeeding, the other failing.

First, a word about Vick. TheGrio had a somewhat breathless take on whether Vick’s comeback was the “stuff of legend” yet. What it didn’t seem to want to address is whether “comeback” is even the right word. Ruben “Hurricane” Carter, wrongly convicted of murder? That was a comeback. Mike Williams, the humble receiver tearing up the NFC West for the Seahawks after having been beat down, overweight, and out of football entirely for two years? That is a comeback.

Vick playing incredibly well after having been out of the league for a prison sentence is not a comeback so much as a great PR move. “Comeback” evokes a certain emotional warmth, a communal will for someone to overcome obstacles. I don’t sense that here. Is anyone saying to themselves, “Wow, that’s great. I can murder dogs and in the end people will still love me?” We watch Vick—and maybe even root for him—because he’s a great athlete doing lovely athletic things. But who is rooting for him as a person?

Still, Vick is playing a lot and saying next to nothing. He gets to hide behind Eagles PR and repeat your basic “the past is in the past” mantra. And then he gets on the field and blinds everyone with his mojo.

Tiger, on the other hand, is not playing well at all. And I’ve never gotten the sense (as someone who was at Stanford while he was still a wraithlike, whispered-about undergrad there) that he’s ever thought much of us mere mortals. Which makes his veritable gabfest a little painful to watch. There is his new Twitter appearance. (“Yep, it’s me. I think I like this twitter thing. You guys are awesome. Thanks for all the love.”) And his radio interviews, with confessional gems like “I can’t get better as a player if I don’t get better as a person.” Then came the Newsweek Op-Ed he wrote:

I’m learning that some victories can mean smiles, not trophies, and that life’s most ordinary events can bring joy. Giving my son, Charlie, a bath, for example, beats chipping another bucket of balls.

It’s all a little frothy, and completely useless in rehabbing him as long as he stays off the leaderboards.

Let me honor the outrage at Vick, though, with a quote from Bill Plaschke in a fine column about Vick’s victims.

Some believe that because Vick served his time in prison, he should be beyond reproach for his former actions. Many others believe that cruelty to animals isn’t something somebody does, it’s something somebody is.

Essentially, an ex-convict is dominating America’s most popular sport while victims of his previous crime continue to live with the brutality of that crime, and has that ever happened before?

But in the end, that doesn’t matter. Not because the athletes in question are callow and exploitative, but because the fans are. I just want to watch some cool shit: a long putt under pressure, a juke to the first down marker. Just as I don’t really want to watch retired players do whatever it is they do (unless they’re color-commenting on people who are currently doing cool shit), I don’t have any use for a golfer who is in touch with himself but can’t hit a drive straight. To expect these guys to be upright citizens, to think that had anything to do with why we watch them, is to misunderstand how fans work. We watch them when they’re good and discard them when they’re not.

So if Tiger Woods really wants his fans back, the sad answer is that Vick is doing it right. Stop asking forgiveness. Stop giving Charlie a bath, and go hit some balls.

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