Some of us in New York have the unfortunate burden of being Jets fans. The New York Jets were a great team sometime more than 40 years ago. Like the Knicks and Mets, they have made it their modus operandi to find new ways to break their fans’ hearts. They have been described as more of a media circus than a football team. It is often remarked that J.E.T.S. means “Just End The Season.”
The news this past weekend that the New York Jets have given up quarterback Mark Sanchez for Michael Vick will be sure to continue the Jets’ reputation for making foolish moves. This is the same team and coaching staff that paid handsomely for Tim Tebow, who became the NFL’s most expensive bench warmer.
The Vick hire has already brought shrieks of horror from animal rights activists, moralistic sports haters and even decent human beings. The Jets made the announcement on a Friday night, when news is likely to get the least amount of attention. Since returning to football, Vick has been the subject of the most invective aimed at a sports figure since O.J. Simpson got away with murder. And Vick didn’t get away with his crimes.
That’s not to say that the continued campaign against Vick is without merit. Michael Vick is every bit as bad as his harshest detractors say. He heartlessly tortured and murdered defenseless animals and his dumbly parroted apologies in the intervening years convince me that he’s only sorry he got caught. If there’s an afterlife, Vick will spend eternity being torturously gnawed at by Rottweilers with AIDS.
But there are a few things that stand out in the endless Vick hatred that the Jets have stirred up again. One is that there are much worse people still playing professional sports today that do not create half the controversy that rightfully follows Vick. The NFL employs rapists and murderers and thugs of every stripe.
One of the rapists that had a home in the NFL until just now was Mark Sanchez, the Jets quarterback that Michael Vick is replacing. It escaped the ire of football moralists that Sanchez was arrested for raping a woman at the University of Southern California while he was a student there, though charges were never brought. There has been no exodus of people from Pittsburgh Steelers fandom on account of their quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, being a serial rapist. Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens is a murderer of people and went on to become a Super Bowl MVP.
The second thing to take note is that the era of the celebrity hero is over. It is hard to face the reality that people we admire for their skills or accomplishments can be bad people. The sports world brings this into focus for us many times over, but the same is true for any celebrated line of work. It’s unfortunate that Lord Byron likely knocked up his own sister and that William S. Burroughs shot his wife to death, but that doesn’t make their writing any less influential.
So I won’t stop being a Jets fan. When you’re a Jet, you’re a Jet all the way, from your first scoreless half to your last fumbled play. I’m used to rooting for a losing NFL team and over needing to like professional athletes. Being a New York Yankees fan, I have read some of the horror stories of how Joe DiMaggio would treat fans. Was Billy Martin a homophobe or a racist? Who cares? No one hired him to sing “Kumbaya” to crack babies; they hired him to play and coach baseball. Baseball’s current home run record holder, Barry Bonds, is such a despised human being that his own teammates could barely bring themselves to congratulate the slugger on his accomplishments.
We can rightfully revile sports figures all we want, but ultimately they will be judged by what they do on the field of play. The New York Jets long ago gave up trying to recreate the magic of being heroes to anyone. Now they just need to win football games.