As soon as former Atlanta Falcons and current Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick was bombarded by FBI agents for his involvement in an interstate illegal dog fighting ring, his lofty image as a super-successful professional athlete dissipated. As Vick's image took a hit, so did his salary and numerous endorsement deals.
Even after Vick was reinstated by the NFL – an organization known for punishing players to the fullest extent possible – three games into the 2009 season, the only discussion about the quarterback revolved around his actions off of the field. Whether the Eagles were playing on the road or at home, chants of "hide your beagle, Vick's an Eagle" were hurled from the stands.
Fortunately for Vick, the 2010 football season was one of the most successful of his career. While leading the Eagles to an NFC East title, Vick set career highs in passing yards, passing touchdowns, rushing touchdowns, completion percentage and passer rating. He received the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year Award.
Not surprisingly, the constant criticism and persecution of Vick has depleted to less than a trickle now that he has returned to his old playing form and is producing on the field. It's possible that Vick's success has spurred the majority of fans and even former critics to forget or at least stop caring much about his previous felonies and jail time.
Vick's popularity has risen so greatly that fans have voted him past many other league stars to be one of two finalists who may grace the cover of the Madden NFL 12 disc case.
Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant was similarly "forgiven" by fans and sponsors for past crimes after making a swift return to entertaining the fans and producing for his team on the court.
This poses the question: Is it OK that success warrants forgiveness?
While most people would assumedly answer ‘no' to this question, the actions of American sports fans tell a different story. All it takes, in the words of Charlie Sheen, is a little "winning!"
On the other side of the coin is the ever-discussed Tiger Woods saga. While Woods did have an encouraging showing at this spring's Masters Tournament, Woods has not exhibited dominance on the green since his multiple affairs and questionable "relations" came to light in November 2009.
I'm not saying that we as sports fans should forgive or not forgive these athletes; I am simply bringing up the question as to why we are or are not granting forgiveness.
If you feel compelled to forgive an athlete and support him on the field again, you should do so because you see genuine remorse, not just because he is helping your favorite team achieve victory.
If you are going to persecute an athlete for something he did in his personal life, remember that it's his personal life and not his performance as an athlete that you're criticizing. To forgive an athlete only because he returns to performing well on the field is simply backward.