Forgiveness is a tricky thing. Sometimes the words the great thinkers use to describe forgiveness and how forgiveness will set you free sound incredibly trite and well, like drivel.
I’ve been giving some thought to forgiveness lately. I’ve been a Philadelphia Eagles fan for over thirty years and I have five dogs. I have a daughter and son in law who are veterinarians and my sister always adopts adult shelter dogs. We are a dog family.
Michael Vick, for those of you who don’t know, is an NFL quarterback who pleaded guilty in 2007 to “Conspiracy to Travel in Interstate Commerce in Aid of Unlawful Activities and to Sponsor a Dog in an Animal Fighting Venture”. He admitted to providing most of the financing for the operation and to participating directly in several dog fights in several states. He admitted to sharing in the proceeds from these dog fights. He further admitted that he knew his colleagues killed several dogs who did not perform well. He admitted to being involved in the destruction of 6–8 dogs, by hanging or drowning. The “victimization and killing of pit bulls” was considered as aggravating circumstances that led prosecutors to exceed the federal sentencing guidelines for the charge. (Thank you Wikipedia)
When I first heard of Vick’s crimes I shut my ears to it as much as possible. The crimes were hideous. Some were committed with his bare hands. I couldn’t fathom that level of violence against dogs. My dogs sleep with me!
Since Vick played for the Atlanta Falcons, he never made a big impression on me; I remembered him more for putting his pot in a water bottle and trying to sneak it on a plane than for his skills. The only impression he had made upon me was negative. He went to prison and I thought that was that.
Ugh. In 2009, my Eagles adopted him. Then-quarterback Donavan McNabb and head coach Andy Reid got with Tony Dungy and they took in this dog killing felon. I was having none of it. So as a South Florida transplant I cheered for the Dolphins for a season and didn’t do anything but keep an eye on the Eagles. Vick didn’t play a lot but it was interesting to watch him. I didn’t see many interviews with him although periodically another article would appear about his crimes and whether he should even be playing in the NFL. I felt that he should not be allowed to rejoin the NFL and he should never, ever be a sports hero or role model for anyone.
A funny thing happened. Vick played more and was interviewed more. He was coming across like someone who had hit rock bottom and was trying to dig his way out. He knew, or at least said out loud, that he was the cause of all of his own problems and was taking responsibility trying to find his way back. Vick lost everything: his career, his multi-million dollar endorsements, money, homes. But in 2010, Vick was no longer wearing wild dreads and oversized athletic wear for interviews. He was well-groomed, articulate and clearly had been coached in PR. And he was starting to make progress with me.
Any time I would read a blog about Vick it was generally negative and the comments would be just heinous. Do to him what he did to dogs. Don’t let him make millions and become a hero again. There was definitely a part of me that agreed with this.
There was also a part of of me that was waking up. I’m supposed to be a Christian, right? And aren’t we supposed to be all about the forgiveness? Or were Vick’s crimes too horrible to ever forgive? To make it that much worse, in 2010 Vick had a Pro Bowl season. He was scrambling and throwing and making his case on the field more than in the press. I was drawn back in to watching the Eagles because Vick was so captivating to watch. That really confused the issue for me. Was I liking Vick more because he was helping my team win or because I truly believe in change?
Slightly off topic – you know when a friend complains about relationship problems and you respond by saying “well people don’t really change”. Is that true? Are we stuck with actions and opinions that we cannot change? Is our personality so set in stone that nothing can ever be corrected? Yoga does not teach me this. Yoga teaches me that people can change both physically and mentally once you open yourself up. I know I’ve changed through my yoga practice.
So I decided to stick my toe in and become a quasi-Vick supporter. The sky did not fall. So I started cheering a little harder and supporting Vick a little more vocally. No one stopped being my friend. No family member disowned me. A few had things to say about my support of Vick. I asked those people to donate to the ASPCA or Humane Society instead of buying me Christmas presents. That helped mitigate some of my unease.
From 2010 to 2013, Vick and the Eagles have been on a down turn. Vick signed another multi-million dollar contract, this time with the Eagles. He fumbled the ball a lot, got injured a lot, several keys players (and the coached) mentally checked out and weren’t putting their all into it. This was when I realized I was more than a fan than I thought – three years later, I’m still cheering for Vick and still hoping for the changes he seemed to make to be permanent. So far, he has been a law-abiding citizen who has gone beyond the conditions of his parole to work on legislation to prevent dog-fighting. He has been a mediocre quarterback at best. I am still a fan.
Through yoga, I’ve tried to step outside of my head and look at things from other people’s perspectives. Sometimes, when I really open myself up, I am shocked to realize that my perspective is not universally shared on issues I think are clear as day. In listening to and reading interviews with Mike Vick, I came to realize something: as much as I could never understand his attitudes towards animals, perhaps he could never understand mine. Maybe he would never understand why Bree sleeps on my pillow, or why Pixel wears a sweater when its 70 degrees out or why Jack Henry the beagle knows my deepest, darkest secrets. This certainly doesn’t excuse his crimes, but it made me think of things a little bit differently.
I don’t know Michael Vick personally and I have no way of knowing if he has really truly changed. But I’ve decided to be on board with forgiveness and try to be a little more open with it. Forgiveness is a gift that you give to yourself. Michael Vick will not know that I have forgiven him and moved on to become a supporter. I hope that I am correct but I have no way of knowing. I have taken a leap of faith and am putting forgiveness into the universe. Holding in the negativity, whether it’s someone you know or someone who effects your life in some minor way, does you no service.