As we near the end of the 2010 NFL season, it is becoming apparent that, regardless of the overall outcome of this season, Michael Vick will most certainly be invited back as the Eagles starting quarterback. And, this has raised a serious conflict for me as a die-hard Eagles fan.
This season has been a tough one for me. As one of those people who bleed green, I would never root against my home team. I’m such a homer, in fact, that I can’t even pick against the Eagles in my weekly ESPN Pick ‘Em League – even if I truly think they’re going to get beat. However, it’s been very difficult to feel good about rooting for a team with Michael Vick as the starting QB. (I can hear all of the Philly fans booing me already.)
Allow me a point of comparison: When the US invaded Iraq in 2003 – which, of course, I was completely against and protested almost every weekend leading up to the war – one of the first things that my dad said to me was, “Don’t HOPE for things to go poorly over there just so that you can be RIGHT.” I understood what my dad was saying because even I, a very strong opponent to anything led by the Bush Administration, couldn’t bear to see men, women, and children die in the name of an unjust and unnecessary war. However, I also thought that if the war was successful, the American people would continue to buy into the Bush Doctrine, and we may just start invading any country that looked at us the wrong way. So, I was in conflict about what to think or feel about the war itself. Obviously, I was against it, but I also didn’t want to see it botched because I didn’t want to see American and Iraqi citizens pay the price.
That same conflict is roiling inside me again, except this time it’s about Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles. I understand that comparing Bush-era politics and Michael Vick is a stretch, and obviously the ramifications of war are much more serious than a football team winning and losing. But, the moral conflict that surrounds both issues is one that deserves exploration.
On the one hand, I never want to see the Eagles lose. But, on the other hand, I knew that if they started winning, we’d never get rid of this guy, and he would, in effect, become our leader. The question then becomes: would I be able to root for a team with such a leader? This may lead some to say, what about second chances? What about redemption? What about winning? Yes, these issues make it all the more difficult for me to sort out my feelings about the Vick and the Birds.
When Vick was just starting out in the NFL, he was a prick. He was lazy, unmotivated, and selfish. He surrounded himself with some shady characters and was, as we know, a dogfighter. He was also really young and came from a background that most of us will never understand. And, some of my sources from the South have informed me that dog fighting is a pretty regular occurrence there and doesn’t have the stigma that it has here. I’m certainly not defending it; I’m just making the point.
When Vick made his return to Philadelphia, he appeared to be a changed man, which, I gather, time in jail and the potential loss of an entire career might do for a man. He was invested in the team. He went to practice, studied the film, and stayed humble and low-key even though I’m sure the sports world was waiting with baited breath for him to make a Terrell Owens-like spectacle of himself. And, on top of this attitude adjustment, he was winning. And, winning BIG. He was a beast on the field, throwing bombs like he was playing schoolyard ball with kids half his age. He was exciting to watch, and it was hard not to stand up and cheer for a guy going deep on the first play of the game, hitting an open receiver 80-yards downfield. It’s been a struggle not to at least like him as the quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Which brings me to my next dilemma: Is it possible to like someone as “a job” and not as a person, and does that then ease the conflict for those of us struggling with Vick as the Eagles quarterback? For example, Brett Myers, former pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies, was arrested for publicly beating his wife outside of a bar, and the Phillies let him pitch the very next day. I, among others, wrote the Phillies angry letters complaining that they should’ve AT LEAST benched him for that one game after the incident. But, I didn’t stop supporting the Phillies. Additionally, the Pittsburgh Steelers fans might not be happy about it, but they’re still behind Ben Roethlisberger, even though he might be, hands down, the most disgusting character of 2010. Can the ACT of winning be separated from the individuals who do the winning?
In the sports world, for better or worse, the answer is YES. One aspect of sports that I’ve always had trouble dealing with is that real fans, including me, suspend their moral compasses in the name of winning. Things that we would condemn in our actual lives are somehow more acceptable for athletes because winning is everything. And, not just winning, but winning by any means necessary. When you’re raised in a society that values competition and winning as much as American society does, it’s hard not to get caught up in it and believe in it even if you know that in many other ways, you’re against it.
The other interesting aspect of the pro-sports world is that it very much resembles Reality TV in that the players and their lives seem simultaneously real and fake to us, so, when we, the viewers, are deciding what our position is on these guys and their actions, we’re in a sort of moral purgatory, hovering between our “real” feelings and our “sports” feelings. And, when it comes to winning, many of us are willing to let our “real life” values fall by the wayside. For example, during a conversation with a friend about the Eagles releasing Donovan McNabb, I argued that even though I appreciated his term of service to the Eagles, it was time for him to go. He was getting old, and I didn’t think he was going to help the team win. My friend asked me where my loyalty was. He thought I owed more of my “real feelings” to McNabb for leading a winning team for over a decade. I said, “There is no loyalty in sports. When it’s time to go, it’s time to go.” For those who know me, this overtly Capitalist mindset goes against everything that I believe in “real life,” which shows that I do not believe sports is real life. So, apparently there’s “Sports Monica” (who’s a competitive Capitalist with anger management issues) and a “Real Life Monica” (who’s a competitive Socialist with anger management issues). I, myself, am an interesting case study as to the power and effect of sports on the human psyche.
In the name of my love of sports, I am willing to take one for Team Paradox (and by “one” I mean I’m willing to take the heat for being a walking contradiction): I am a Pacificist who loves football, a Socialist who demands downsizing when performance is poor, and an animal lover who can’t help liking Michael Vick as the quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles. And, I feel terrible and wonderful about all of it.
If NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell would’ve banished Vick indefinitely from the NFL, I would’ve supported that decision. But, he didn’t do that, and while we don’t have to like that decision, we have to accept that it is what it is. We have three choices here: we can make the decision to be fully against Vick and hope that the Eagles implode as punishment for picking up this guy; we can support the team full tilt without any feelings of remorse for what Vick did; or we can take my position and acknowledge that our values are being called into question, criticize the team from afar, and jump up and down screaming wildly when Michael Vick hits DeSean Jackson for a 88-yard touchdown.
Like I said, I’m willing to take one for team.