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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.

Marshall and Vick are reminders that people are redeemable. Which is entirely different than saying everyone deserves immediate forgiveness for their screw-ups. Context matters, and we are all part of the jury, whether we relish the role or seek to avoid it altogether.

I would argue that those young baseball players got exactly what they deserved: a burst of public humiliation.

The standing ovation that Brewers fans gave to Hader in his first home appearance after the All-Star Game was bizarre, and a slap in the face to the black, female and gay fans he had previously demeaned. He shouldn’t be rewarded for his stupidity. He should be cuffed by the media and the online “community,” to send an important message to other young athletes: Don’t be a giant jerk. And if you are, keep your damn mouth shut.

On the other hand, it matters that Hader, Newcomb and Turner all were in their late teens when they announced their racial bigotry (or at least insensitivity), misogyny and homophobia to the world. That’s old enough to know better. It’s also young enough to have the potential to grow and mature and evolve. They should resume their careers – under added scrutiny until they prove they understand why their words were hurtful.

Manziel let down his organization and his teammates. He also was accused by his former girlfriend of domestic violence, a charge that was dismissed when he agreed to fulfill certain obligations, like completing an anger management class. It isn’t hard to imagine that Manziel at least threatened his girlfriend, that he terrorized her.

And yet I’m willing to root for his comeback. Manziel’s wounds were mostly self-inflicted. And he was an addict. Addiction has turned a lot of people into antisocial creeps. If Manziel can stay clean — a huge “if” — maybe he can help scare some other athletes straight.

What makes Osuna’s case so difficult is that none of us is sure of what, exactly, he did to his accuser. Neither the Toronto police, MLB or anyone’s legal team has released details. Here in the Bay Area, the Reuben Foster case taught us that we can’t reflexively accept every charge at face value. We also know by now that domestic abuses tend to be under-reported, not over-reported.

Speaking more generally, domestic violence is a world apart from offensive teenage tweets, and has to be treated as such. The problem is that we can’t rely on sports teams for moral guidance. They have shown, time and time again, that they value ability over character. Rest assured that if Roberto Osuna were a struggling middle reliever with a 5.29 ERA, rather than a closer who had nine saves in 10 attempts in 2018, he’d already be on the streets.

So the next time your favorite team signs an athlete who beats up women or commits hate crimes or is guilty of some other abominable act, remember that it’s up to us to bring the receipts — to call out the team on social media or write a letter explaining why we’ll no longer be buying tickets or ball caps.

Public humiliation is a scary weapon, but it can be the appropriate response to individual misdeeds. It can also be the only tool we have to shame sports teams into doing what’s right.

You can reach columnist Phil Barber at 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com. Find him on Twitter: @Skinny_Post.

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