One more chance to forgive
Published 4:00 am Monday, January 5, 2004
Perhaps none of the virtues we practice collectively as Americans is more pronounced than our incredible penchant for forgiveness -- especially as it applies to one-time heroes or cultural icons who've fallen on hard times. It seems as though we're willing to extend practically anyone a second chance -- and sometimes a third or fourth -- so long as they've paid whatever price required of their original sin, and proven to us that they're still worth keeping around.
And so long as we liked them enough to begin with, of course.
Sure, there are a few exceptions. What happens to Michael Jackson in the coming years will likely provide another of those, a further example that there's only so far down we're willing to reach to pull someone back to the surface. But, if you really think about it, examples like this are few and far between. The American landscape is littered with public figures who've executed remarkable comebacks, even after displaying some of the most shameful behavior imaginable.
And often we forget that they were ever disgraced to begin with, so complete is their recovery. Marv Albert still calls professional basketball games. Dick Morris, the longtime political advisor to Bill and Hillary Clinton, is once again a regular and well-received guest on countless news programs. Does anyone remember the lurid descriptions of these mens' private lives that were made highly public only a few short years ago?
Anyone who doesn't will have to consult the internet, because the details aren't going to be repeated here. Even Morris' former boss, our last president, earned himself the title of "Comeback Kid" after recovering from scandal after scandal -- though to be fair to ourselves, after going to the trouble of electing him to lead our nation, we were kind of stuck with the guy, like him or not.
In the world of celebrity entertainment, the list of behaviors we've been willing to overlook is too lengthy to list, as long as the people were attractive or compelling enough to begin with.
Why is this? Why are we so forgiving, and why is America the land of the public comeback? After we've bought into someone fully enough, we're often simply unwilling to give up on them, to write them off, until they've pushed us to the point of no return. That point? See: Michael Jackson.
The world of sports and the people who play the games offers no exception, as has been proven time and again. Heck, even Mike Price got another job recently, as head coach of The University of Texas-El Paso.
But the sports world's longest-running attempt at a comeback -- and perhaps its most divisive -- has to be the one that's been orchestrated by baseball great Pete Rose over the better part of two decades. Rose, who was nicknamed "Charlie Hustle," was never the biggest, fastest or strongest player in his sport. But few argue against those who say he was the hardest worker, and it's often been repeated that he got more from his limited natural ability than any man who ever stepped onto a ballfield. When Rose said he would "walk through Hell in a gasoline suit" to play baseball, no one really doubted him. We bought into Pete Rose, and who can really blame us? America loves a hard worker, someone who demands the most from himself, and America loves baseball. Pete Rose was both.
But years later, while managing the Cincinatti Reds, Rose found himself in big trouble for betting on football and other sports, a cardinal sin. He signed an agreement which did two things: it banned him from the game for life, and allowed him to move on without having to admit to betting on baseball itself or, even worse, his own team -- two things practically everyone believes he did.
But being banned from baseball has precluded Rose -- who retired as baseball's all-time hits leader and who, as much as anyone, defined the game for a generation of fans -- from being considered for the Hall of Fame. Rose has campaigned endlessly to have himself reinstated, so he can be placed on the Hall of Fame ballot and voted into Cooperstown. But he's also clung to his denial that he never wagered on baseball or the Reds, which has earned him another in a long line of singular distinctions -- recognition as one of America's most shameless liars. He wants it both ways: to make his comeback, but without having to pay the price we normally demand of people before we allow that to happen.
Rose has a new book set to come out on Jan. 8. Entitled "My Prison Without Bars," it's already ranked 81st on barnesandnoble.com's sales list. Rose still has a lot of fans, but there's no doubt at least some those pre-release sales are due to "buzz" that the disgraced ballplayer may finally come clean in his new autobiography.
After nearly twenty years of lying, that'll be a tall order. But maybe Rose has finally figured out that he can't have his cake and eat it, too. America is no doubt willing to forgive baseball's all-time hits leader. But only if he's willing to "walk through Hell in a gasoline suit" for us one more time.
He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.