The BOA (British Olympic Association) wants to keep drug cheats out of the 2012 Olympics. Somehow they’ve come under huge criticism for this stand – a dramatic U-turn from what had previously been an opinion held by almost everyone in the athletics world. The BOA’s main rivals, strangely, are Wada (World Anti-Doping Agency) who found the BOA by-law “non-compliant with the world anti-doping code.”
Wada’s argument is that drug abusers have served their punishment by way of bans, and once those bans have been served they should be allowed to compete like everyone else. The BOA’s argument, and one shared by a number of British athletes such as Darren Campbell and Chris Hoy, is that drug abusers have dishonoured their sport and their country and shouldn’t be allowed to represent them again.
This raises an interesting point – whether athletes should be given a second chance. If the answer is “no” as the BOA says, then why not just ban them from the sport altogether? The reason we don’t is because it’s far more complicated than a simple “yes” or “no” – as the millions of pounds worth of lawyers will prove testament to over the next few months. And it’s not simply about the morality of drugs either, which have been seen as a scourge of athletics for years, for the issue of redemptions in sport are as common now as they’ve ever been.
Take Michael Vick as an example. Once upon a time he was the saviour of the Atlanta Falcons. Then he got arrested for dog-fighting.
To clarify – that’s not a man fighting a dog, that’s a dog fighting another dog. Vick was a man who was given everything he could possibly want on a plate, but he decided he didn’t want that. He wanted to kill dogs with other dogs.
But that’s just the beginning of the story. If he’d been arrested, sent to prison for three years and was then spat on by children and former team-mates for the rest of his life I’d be okay with that. I’m not saying lock him up forever and never give him a chance to make amends for what he’s done. That would be too much. But here he is, little over three years later, back playing in the NFL.
And it’s not like he’s one of those players that everyone hates. It turns out he was one of the candidates for NFL MVP (Most Valuable Player), the equivalent of the Ballon d’or in football. He also came second in a vote to be on the cover of the official NFL video game, Madden.
“Daddy, when I grow up I want to be just like Michael Vick. Can I get a puppy for Christmas?”
To reiterate, I’m not saying Michael Vick should’ve been damned to a life of torture (besides the spitting thing). I found the treatment Dwayne Chambers got pretty appalling. He made a mistake; he got his ban – that was his punishment. Let the man try and redeem himself. Instead he’s been practically shunned from the sport altogether and can’t compete in any competition that’s worth competing in.
Meanwhile, upon Michael Vick’s release from prison he was welcomed with open arms by the Philadelphia Eagles. They just couldn’t wait to get their hands on him and pay him lump sums of money. Philadelphia may be the city of brotherly love, but there’s no need for this.
He started as a back-up, but due to injuries eventually found himself in the starting team. It was during this stint that he had a string of remarkable performances, including one evening game – when the entire country would be watching – in which he played an absolute blinder. America fell in love with him. He had “truly redeemed himself.”
Really? There are two types of redemption. The good-news story (or every episode of My Name Is Earl) in which someone does something bad – such as stealing money – but makes up for it by working off their debt. The other is when commentators describe sporting redemption, labelling every misdemeanour that’s been corrected a “redemption.” If a player scores an own-and goal then scores at the other end, he has redeemed himself.
They’ve both exchanged one thing for another of equal value. That’s why scoring a hat-trick of own goals and then winning a corner isn’t a redemption. Or murdering dogs and then doing your day-job isn’t a redemption.
The two things just don’t compute, and it’s absolutely disgusting that people rate sport so highly that it’s on a par with violating animals and making a profit out of it.
But it’s not Michael Vick’s fault. He just wanted to play football again, and full credit to him, he’s got on and done that. Without murdering anything. If he’d been given time he could have proved that he’d made a horrible mistake, he’d paid for it and begun to earn people’s trust again. He already gives substantial donations to animal shelters.
Unfortunately, he’s never truly going to be able to amends because the public were so quick to forgive him in the first place. And that’s what really complicates this issue; Wada could look at this story and ask if they want this kind of situation repeating itself. Meanwhile the BOA could look at this story and see someone who has overcome (albeit self-inflicted) adversity to do what a sportsman should be doing – playing sports.