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Football Fabulosa – Is Forgiveness Black and White?

Please indulge me while I ponder the issue of whether forgiveness is black and white. Consider the incident involving Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay. He was arrested in the northern Indianapolis suburb of Carmel and charged with driving under the influence. He was also charged with felony possession after a vehicle search revealed four bottle of prescribed non prescription drugs.

Following the arrest, many weighed in on his decision to get behind the wheel and his arrest. Many were supportive. Some were not. He was lavished with praise for agreeing to enter a rehab facility. His father’s issues with alcohol were mentioned. Addiction is a real thing and yes it does tend to run in the family.

Soon thereafter, many began to question the disparity in treatment shown by some media members between the Irsay case and NFL players. To some, the disparity was laced with not a little bit of racism. To be sure, the NFL is predominantly comprised of black players. However, the Pat McAffee incident and resulting coverage shows it’s not entirely about race.

This Aaron Gordon Sports on Earth article on the issue got me to thinking about the topic. Just to be clear, I don’t have any answers here but I do have a lot of questions. Gordon rightfully takes Peter King to task on his disparate reporting and certainly there are other examples.

As I was thinking on the issue I kept coming back to the same reasons for the disparate treatment. It may be changing but by and large the folks we are talking about are middle aged white males. Irsay is a peer and someone they can identify with and form sympathetic thoughts. For some, it may even be a little bit of “there but for the grace of God go I.”

At age 54, Irsay certainly has a long history of addiction and abuse. Does the lengthy history entitle him to more sympathy or less? Should we judge someone who has struggled longer with addiction less harshly than those who have not?

Of course I’m talking about the difference in treatment between Irsay and San Francisco Forty Niners player Aldon Smith that Gordon mentions in his article. Aldon Smith was arrested twice for driving under the influence before agreeing to check himself into a rehab facility. There was no similar outpouring of support though many approved of him getting help.

To be fair, we treat young men and women in this country in a hypocritical fashion. Young people aged eighteen are deemed old enough to handle weapons and die for their country but not old enough to walk into a bar and buy an adult beverage in many places. Yet we let them marry freely at eighteen as well.

Young men, especially young black males, are deemed mature enough to be charged as an adult and face similar penalties but not old enough to consent to sexual contact in many states where the age of consent is generally 16 or better. Many states consider 18 the age of consent.

Is it easier for middle aged men to look at young men drinking and driving as simply irresponsible while older men are simply struggling with addiction and/or issues? At what point does one pass the line between irresponsible behavior and addiction?

Should we have more sympathy for a younger person struggling with these issues than an older one? Do access to resources like Irsay make his behavior even more irresponsible? I don’t have the answers to these questions. I do know addiction knows no barriers and those caught in the throes rarely have self awareness until they hit rock bottom.

In truth, we often fail to recognize our own biases when we talk about a lot of issues. Lack of self awareness isn’t limited to those struggling with addictions. Yet sympathy and concern shouldn’t be isolated to those of similar identity.

Young NFL players who get in trouble are subject to the conduct policy as are the owners. Many will be watching to see how Commissioner Roger Goodell handles the Irsay situation since he has been known to come down hard on players. Will he come down hard on him?

For the record I’m not naive enough to think that racism doesn’t exist. We know better and we see that no more clearly than with Justin Beiber who is largely portrayed in the media as a misguided young man while young black males who act similarly are portrayed as “thugs” and treated much differently.

Consider what happened when Richard Sherman trash talked Michael Crabtree following the NFC championship game. A well educated young black male at the top of his game who did nothing more than celebrate that fact got repeatedly called a thug, and a lot worse, with some of the offenders being media members.

Deadspin so very accurately and completely covered the meltdown while Sherman himself eloquently discussed what they were really calling him. Greg Howard offered this thought provoking piece.

Dialogue is so important as we struggle to understand why these disparities continue to exist. This article poses far more questions than it does answers simply because I don’t have any. What can we do to better understand one another?

I would like to think there is a solution here and I’m interested to hear your thoughts.

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