Michael Vick, Bill Simmons, Forgiveness and Restorative Justice

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Bill Simmons (aka The Sports Guy) wrote a recent column about Micheal Vick and his comeback. (Rooting for Michael Vick)

Quick background: Mike Vick was the most tantalizing NFL football player I have ever seen. (Some recent highlights: here) He was a quarterback who threw laser beam passes that look like they were traveling at the speed of light on a rope. He ran faster than anyone else on the field. He could put on the brakes instantly and change direction before a defender realized what happened. In short, Mike Vick highlights are like Michael Jordan highlights. Incredible.

Then it all came crashing down. Vick was convicted on Federal Dog Fighting charges. Vick and his friends raised fighting dogs and fought them. They tortured dogs. They killed dogs. For his crimes he sat in prison for a couple years. He was suspended by the NFL. He was bankrupt. Many thought his career was over.

After being released from jail and then a halfway house, Vick has become an ambassador for animal rights and an (almost) model citizen since his release. Vick played a little football last year but was a third string quarterback on a good team. This year he began as a backup, but following an injury to the starting quarterback, Vick became the starter.

Vick played better than ever. His athleticism has not deteriorated and his maturity as a player make him a better player than he was before. People began to talk about a “Hollywood Ending” to the Vick saga. Vick had the support of many of his previous detractors.

Simmons writes that Vick emerged as the “feel good story” of the NFL. But his wife disagrees. The Sports Gal cannot forgive Vick. The Sports Gal says that if you love dogs, you cannot possibly forgive Vick. Sport Guy retorts that Vick did everything humanly possibly to pay for his crimes, apologize and rehabilitate his life. He lost EVERYTHING. He said he was genuinely sorry. He is fixing what he broke. Vick is a real Restorative Justice story. And Bill Simmons forgives him. Mrs. Simmons loves dogs too much to forgive Vick.

The article is a great read and I recommend reading it.

It got me thinking about a discussion in our Restorative Justice Seminar about forgiveness, apologies and their role in Restorative Justice.

Restorative Justice seeks to fix what was broken when a crime is committed. It calls for all who have a stake in the crime to do their best to restore those who were harmed by the crime. Usually it is the victims, the community and the perpetrator.

Do criminals need to apologize for their crimes to be restored? Do victims need to forgive for the criminals to be restored?

Some people think it is vital that the criminal apologize. How can the victim forgive without an apology? Others say that victims should never and will never forgive their attackers, so why apologize? Others say that apologies that are required are not real. Yet others say that even if the victim does not forgive their attacker, the community should forgive.

Some participants in the discussion mentioned crimes that were perpetrated against them. Some of those people said they would never forgive their attacker. Others said they forgave their attacker and it made them feel better.

During the discussion an idea crystallized in my head. It seems to me that people can be divided into two disparate categories. There are forgivers and non-forgivers.

The Forgivers are willing to forgive anyone. They give everyone second chances. And third and fourth chances too. The Forgivers hate retribution and vengeance. The Forgivers will only punish to protect others but not because the criminal needs to be punished to pay for his crime. Forgivers do not need an apology to forgive. They have already forgiven.

The Non-Forgivers do not forgive. No amount of apology makes an impact. The apology cannot fix anything. Words are cheap. I’m sorry doesn’t change the past. Non-Forgivers want criminals to pay for their crimes. Non-Forgivers “move on” without forgiveness.

I don’t think there is anything “wrong” with Non-Forgivers. Nor do I think Forgivers are “better”. Both have advantages and disadvantages.

Of course there are exceptions, but I think these categories cover almost everyone.

When it comes to Vick, those who are Non-Forgivers AND Dog Lovers can’t forgive him. If you’re a Non-Forgiver who doesn’t love dogs then you don’t need to forgive Vick.

So it turns out that it would impossible and almost idiotic to require an apology for Restorative Justice seeing as it plays little role in the healing process. Forgivers don’t need it and Non-Forgivers don’t care for it.

One final note: In Judaism an apology is not for the victim. Victims are expected to forgive. In order for God to pardon a sin using the Teshuva process (Essay: What is Teshuva (repentance) and How Does It Work in Judaism?) the one who suffered the harm must forgive. Orthodox Jews make a proclamation every year just before Yom Kippur that they forgive anyone and everyone that may have hurt them1. Forgiveness is basically a given. However, an apology is valued by what it accomplished for the perpetrator. Saying “I’m sorry” is good for the person who did something wrong because it is an acknowledgment of wrongdoing which is necessary for his personal change. Even if the apology is required, it can make all the difference in the world for the one who expresses the apology is rehabilitating their life.

For a truly heartwarming story of forgiveness see this video:

  1. Incredibly, even if the forgiver does not “mean it”, the perpetrator is still “forgiven” by God under the halachic precept of “things of the heart have no probative value when they contradict one’s words”. []
  • Eli

    I love this article although I would venture to say I think there is a third category. I don’t forgive blindly nor do I withhold forgiveness when it is requested of me. I think that in and of itself is a sin. I don’t know what that third category IS but I am in it. Maybe the only one but I couldn’t just look at something like 9/11 and say, “I forgive those terrorists.” Maybe that helps some people…but not me. If they had ASKED forgiveness, that would be another story.

    • I left room for a minority of 3rd category people.

      But I want to clarify: The Forgivers do not forgive blindly. But when they are asked some time after the event they forgive.

      I think Forgivers would forgive the 9/11 terrorists without needed to hear of remorse. It does nothing for the Forgiver to NOT forgive.

  • Pingback: Dogs in Judaism and an Apology to Bill Simmons | Pacific Jewish Center | Rabbi()

  • GC

    I have never seen any kind of “ambassador” acts on his part for animal rights. Where? When?

  • This is really horrible about Vick. We dont want this type of phenomenon anymore. And besides this we all should build up the habit of forgiveness. Nice video you have shared. And nice one this goo.gl/KIZRf is.