Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Blog 20 - Crossing the line - To accept or not?

As you've probably gathered by now, I'm opinionated, and I'm judgemental. Whilst I believe people can make small changes to their lives I believe that essentially they will remain the same person they always have been. A person who shoplifts a loaf of bread because they have no money and no food is not a hardened criminal for life, but someone who has the money and still does it is a thief and always will be. Not everyone will agree with me but that's my opinion. Fairly subjective to my own morality admittedly but at the same time fairly clear cut. I don't think people who make a choice to act immorally should be trusted to ever act in a moral way again. I don't believe that when they have included "theft", "murder", "rape" or whatever act into their menu of possible actions during life, knowingly and consciously, they always have that potential, and the likelihood is that once you've chosen to cross the line once, it'll be easier to cross the line a second time.

When someone does something knowingly and consciously, which I consider to be abhorrent and wrong then, I am very unforgiving. Generally I regard them with at best, low-level contempt. I have cut such people out of my life before and would do so again without hesitation if circumstances warranted it. Similarly I am equally judgemental of people in the public eye.

I've never been a fan of Michael Jackson. Always found his music to be boring and a lot of glitzy American style over substance. So when it emerged that he was an enthusiastic pedophile (and we all know he was, let's face it) I had no problem condemning him as loudly as the most vitriolic tabloid. But I can appreciate that for someone who loved his music, there must have been a real moral dillemma to be faced. Do you carry on as a fan regardless, clinging onto the "it was never proved in court" argument that only carries water if you buy into the theory that rich people buying their way out of prison never happens? Or do you accept the reality and take a moral stance, not buying his records, even though you enjoy them?

I've experienced a similar ethical query with an entertainment figure recently and it's one I've found difficult to reconcile with my own beliefs. The subject of my dilemma is the American Footballer Michael Vick. In April 2007 Vick was found to be keeping a dog-fighting ring in the grounds of his enormous home in Atlanta, Georgia. Vick hosted the fights for his circle of friends and fellow dog-fighting enthusiasts. But when I say he hosted fights, we're not talking a one-off or even occasional coming toegether of two angry pets. Chez Vick was the Madison Square Garden of Dog Fighting. We're talking seated pit arenas, betting stalls and breeding programs for aggressive pit-bulls complete with "rape-racks" which allow aggressive males to mount aggressive females and produce aggressive puppies without the fear of the mother killing the father in the act. When police raided Vick's home they found the remains of hundreds of dogs that had been killed following the fights, or even weaker small dogs which had been used as warm-up acts to get the featured competitive dogs into a killing frenzy before matches. In August 2007 Vick pled guilty and spent the next 21 months in prison. Personally as an animal-lover and someone who used to work for the RSPCA, I wish they'd given him the death sentence. But that's not everyone's opinion, which I accept.

My problem is that, since release, Vick's life has pretty much returned to normal. The owner of his former team, Arthur Blank of the Atlanta Falcons, bravely refused to have him as part of his organisation and sacked the undoubtedly talented star quarterback. However, someone with Vick's talented was never going to be without a team, and the Philadelphia Eagles took him on. Vick has quickly re-established himself as one of the best players in the game and is one of the names shortlisted for the prodigious NFL Most Valuable Player of the Season Award, such has been his astounding return to the game. Following a period of bankrupcy when in prison due to the loss of his multi-million dollar salary and the astronomical costs of his legal bills, Vick is now back amongst the top-earners again.

Worse still for me is the level of forgiveness he has managed to find. Philadelphia fans cheer his name. Team mates embrace him as not only one of them, but as their leader on the field. Even Barack Obama put his two cents in, congratulating the Eagles management on giving an offender a second chance. Vick has made all the right public noises, stating his regret at his actions, donating money to animal charities and doing voluntary work, talking about hoping to one day own a pet dog again etc, etc, and people seem to be lapping this up. For me it's the product of modern P.R. and notjing more. It means nothing. It's as superficial and transitory as Nick Griffin turning up with a camera crew to film a party-political broadcast segment armed with a can of Lilt and some Reggae Reggae sauce. I'm not buying it, and I doubt in their heart of hearts whether anyone else is. Yet still society seems to be letting him back regardless, I suspect solely because he has something to offer. Vick is in his prime, playing scintillating, dynamic and winning football. If he was 36, slowing and clinging onto the last few months before retirement I doubt he'd be treated the same.

And the most galling thing of all is that I understand it. I love watching Vick play. He's by far the most exciting player in the game today and plays with an inventiveness and athleticism that can't help but drag you onto the edge of your seat when he's on the field. And I can totally understand why the Eagles fans cheer for him. After all once your teams executives have taken the decision to employ him and put him on the field of play, what choice do you have but to cheer him on as part of your team? You're not going to stop cheering your team, whom you've followed all your life just because you have some moral objections to an objective decision on a non-footballing matter taken by the current management are you? Maybe you should. But if it was me and Norwich City were to do similar I honestly don't know what I'd do. Which scares me tremendously. There's an outside chance that my NFL team of choice, the Arizona Cardinals may try and bring in Vick, who is out of contract now, although given the fees involved it would be unlikely. In pure footballing terms it would be an enormous coup and the best thing that could happen to the team. Morally, I think I would have to abandon them as my NFL team if they did however. But then I have no ties to Arizona. I simply picked them out of the 32 teams when I started taking an interest in American Football because I felt the closest allegiance to them and some of their players at the time and since then I've grown a great deal of affection for the Cards. But walking away from them to another NFL team would not be a problem if circumstances warranted it. I'd simply support my second team instead (ironically the Atlanta Falcons who sacked Vick rather than give him a second chance).

Back to the comparison with English football and Norwich City though and the problem would become infinitely more difficult. I'm tied to them through geography, history and 27 years of financial input. Christ I even own a couple of token shares in the club. And if Rooney or Ronaldo were to commit an atrocity tomorrow and ask Norwich to be their chosen club of rehabilitation after prison, how would I feel about that? Knowing that it would inevitably improve us on the field, and possibly get us back into the Premier League wouldn't be a consideration for me because I'd rather not have them and stay as we were. But if the board were to sanction the player coming in and they were there, in the yellow and green could I just walk away and stop supporting the team I love? It's a decision I never want to have to make, because I don't know what I would do. Could I accept and move on? Or would I have the fortitude to leave something that feels a part of me. I sympathise with Philadelphia fans. Maybe I shouldn't but I do. And I'm not proud of myself for saying that.