Roberto Osuna is getting a second chance. Josh Hader already got his. Johnny Manziel is about to receive his third chance. Or is it his fourth? Sean Newcomb and Trea Turner hope to follow in their footsteps.
All across the sporting landscape, athletes are apologizing for past transgressions and asking for a new start.
Second chances make for great stories. Especially in sports, where we love to boil down complex human traits and emotions, and squeeze the contents into ready-made forms. Redemption is one of our favorites.
When we’re talking about athletic performance, there is nothing as pure, or as uplifting, as the second chance. A batter strikes out with the bases loaded to end the game. He’s dejected. The team’s fans are frustrated. A week later he gets a similar opportunity and doubles off the wall for a walk-off hit. It’s simultaneously heroic and relatable. We all fail. How will we respond? Like the hitter with the bases loaded? We’d like to think so.
When the failings are moral in nature, though, it gets so much more complicated. Because then it isn’t just about the athlete’s response. It’s about ours. Do we want him or her to succeed? Do we want them to fail, or to simply go away? Or do we aspire to neutrality?
The question is coming up a lot lately. Hader, Newcomb and Turner, three young Major League Baseball players, all have been sucked into the swamp of the Terrible Old Tweet. For Hader, it happened during the All-Star Game two weeks ago. Newcomb and Turner were outed on Sunday. All have apologized, publicly and to teammates.
Meanwhile, Manziel is scheduled to start at quarterback for the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League on Friday. It will be his first meaningful football action since the Cleveland Browns released him following the 2015 season, as Manziel began his tumble into a tabloid spiral of drugs, booze, missed meetings and legal run-ins.
And then there is Osuna. The stellar relief pitcher last threw for the Toronto Blue Jays on May 6, three days before he allegedly assaulted a woman and was suspended for 75 games by MLB. Monday, the Jays traded him to the Houston Astros, who hope Osuna will be a big asset in their pursuit of another World Series victory.
If you feel uneasy about all of this, you’re doing it right. It’s messy stuff.
It would be much easier to resolve if bad guys stayed bad forever. They don’t, though, not always. People actually turn their lives around. They find God, or the military, or they hit rock bottom and wake up, or they simply mature. And when they do, it’s beautiful. It triggers our own capacity for forgiveness.
There are examples in sports. Think of Brandon Marshall, the NFL wide receiver who was investigated several times for domestic violence. He was a disaster. But after he was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, Marshall not only stopped pushing women around. He became a vocal and effective advocate for mental health awareness and funding.
Think of Michael Vick, the former NFL quarterback whose involvement in a vicious dogfighting ring was nothing short of horrific. Vick spent 18 months in federal prison and two months under house arrest. You never know what’s inside a stranger’s heart. But Vick’s comments following his conviction and incarceration sounded real. He re-entered the NFL, became an admired teammate and, at least as far as I know, hasn’t done anything reprehensible since.