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A quick scan of today's sports headlines reveals a number of former "bad boys" who've been around long enough to see the focus of their storylines return to their performances on the field, rather than their indiscretions off of it. A few others ... well not quite yet.
Today, Lakers forward Ron Artest is being lauded for his decision to donate some or all of his 2010-11 salary to mental health charities -- and he's already raffling off his 2010 NBA championship ring for the same cause. Artest's teammate, Kobe Bryant, will join him and the rest of their championship Lakers team at the White House on Monday.
As with seemingly every other week of the NFL season, media and fans are rapt with attention as Brett Favre tries to get healthy so he can play this weekend, his NFL record of 297 straight starts hanging in the balance.
Perhaps the most surprising example of an athlete starting anew is that of Michael Vick. As of Wednesday, the Eagles quarterback is the top vote-getter for the Pro Bowl. This just a year and a half after being released from prison for his cruel dog-fighting ring. Vick says of the turnaround, "I changed my life and it just goes to show anybody can do it. It's an unfortunate situation, the things that happened, I wish I could go back and change it all. I wish I could take it all back. The only thing I can do is move forward."
Even though he's still got a little crazy in him, Artest's fistfight with fans in 2004 seems like a lifetime ago. Kobe's sexual assault case came and went, and he kept his wife and even most of endorsements. Brett Favre's drug problems are such ancient history I'd venture to guess most of today's young NFL fans don't even know about them. And while his "sexting" has landed him back in the gossip rags, he hasn't yet faced discipline from the league, he's still hawking Wranglers and he's still starting football games. As for Vick, a good many people haven't forgotten his terrible actions, but that Pro Bowl poll shows that over 729,838 have.
As someone who DVRs "The Puppy Bowl" on Animal Planet every year and has the website DailyPuppy.com bookmarked for ready access, I will never look at Vick with anything but disgust. I believe that the NBA, the NFL and every other professional sports league are a privilege and not a right. Just because you're great -- even the best -- at something, doesn't mean you're owed the right to do it. To be honest, I cringe to see the adoration heaped upon Vick for his fast feet and strong arm -- the same feet that likely kicked helpless dogs and the same arm that hung and drowned others. However, I do believe he's right when he says his only option is to move forward.
Imagine a world with no second chances, no redemption and no reason to get better, to be better. Without the opportunity to start fresh and redeem themselves, none of these men would have reached the pinnacles of success they have, nor would they have had the chance to inspire others to turn things around. It doesn't matter what my feelings are on Vick or anyone else who I believe forfeited his chance at fame and fortune, the world will continue to turn and, with each turn, people will forget and, eventually, forgive.
So to Tiger, Ben Roethlisberger, even LeBron (who right now is hated perhaps more than some of his criminal counterparts) and to every other athlete who hasn't yet "done his time," I guess you can breathe easier knowing that all it takes is time. Some of us will never root for you again, but plenty of others will.