Put down the phone, Mr. President


President Obama recently called the owner of the Philadelphia Eagles, Jeff Lurie, to commend him for environmentally friendly capital improvements at the pro football team's stadium.

I have no problem with Obama having done that.

Regardless of your position on whether the globe is warming, it is virtuous to diversify our sources of power and it is equally virtuous to reduce our emission of pollutants.

We are leaving a cleaner, healthier place. We are preserving natural resources. It is simply the good and right thing.

Joe Blow could go green at his mobile home and few would care. But, as the president surely understood, a professional football team is high-profile and thus in a position to influence by example.

A football team holds that influential position because of our disturbing interest in high-speed human collision. It also holds that position as a result of our collective psychological affliction. That is one by which we assume enhanced self-worth when athletic teams based in our towns win games over athletic teams happening to represent other towns.

So it also turns out that Obama, in the course of this ecology-based conversation, offered further laudatory words to the Eagles' owner for having given a second chance to Michael Vick, a football player of rare and pure athletic gifts who went to prison for operating a dog-fighting ring.

This, alas, is where I have a problem.

It is not because of Vick's history of animal abuse, though I recoil at the very thought of it and take a back seat to few in the depth of my animal affection and devotion.

But true compassion and true forgiveness are not stubborn and they do not discriminate. Redemption is available to all who genuinely seek it and who arduously earn it, no matter how evil their former behavior.

I have needed an occasional second chance myself. I suspect the same goes for the rest of you, at some level.

No, my objection is otherwise, and three-fold:

1. If the owner of the Philadelphia Eagles wants a president's plaudits, or anyone else's, for giving an ex-con a second chance, then he should pick a paroled inmate at random and put him in at quarterback today against the Dallas Cowboys.

But, no, this presidentially extolled pro football owner extended a second chance only to one particular parolee, that being one with uncommon athletic prowess through which this owner's commercial property can more likely achieve victory, attract paying customers and secure greater profit.

2. As it happens, this entire issue -- that of employers getting credit for extending second chances in hiring -- lacks moral clarity. And it lacks moral clarity regardless of station.

Is a roofing contractor who employs an ex-con extending that employee a second chance or is he simply finding somebody, anybody, who is willing to slather hot tar all day for a meager wage?

Is an employer of undocumented immigrants compassionately offering these poor souls a second, or better, chance?

3. Because what he says carries more weight than what the rest of us say, a president needs to be cautious, judicious, sparing and wise in the allocation of his telephone time for laudatory and congratulatory purposes.

Praising a pro football owner for employing a former prisoner who is only the most impressively athletic quarterback anyone has seen in decades -- that does not meet the threshold.

It is morally unclear and it is trivial.

When in doubt, Mr. President, put down the phone, maybe before you dial at all, but certainly before you meander from environmental responsibility over to second chances for persons with the rare gift to reap millions for hurling a pigskin the length of a football field.

John Brummett is an award-winning columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock and author of "High Wire," a book about Bill Clinton's first year as president. His e-mail address is jbrummett@ arkansasnews.com.

 

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