This week Forbes released another top 10 list based on surveys by E-Poll Market Research -- this one touting (of all things) the NFL's Most-Disliked Players and crowning Eagles' starting quarterback, Michael Vick, as number one.
To be sure, Michael Vick has made some mistakes -- some serious mistakes. Being promoted as the "next big thing" can go to the head of any young athlete. That seems to have been the case with Mr. Vick. However, I am flummoxed that after four years on the straight and narrow he would top the list of the NFL's most disliked players.
I happen to love stories of redemption. One of the hallmarks of Christianity is the message of redemption. In the broad sense, the Bible is largely a collection of one redemptive story after another. If one gets nothing else from reading the Bible they cannot miss the overarching theme that there is always hope no matter how far a person has fallen.
Consider Judah, for example, son number four of the patriarch Jacob. According to patriarchal practices a man's firstborn son is privileged with a double inheritance and priority in rank over younger siblings. Judah is outraged when his father Jacob flagrantly violates ancient patriarchal protocol and bypasses ten older sons in favor of Joseph, son of his second wife Rachel. Judah comes unhinged and actually sells his younger half-brother to slave traders. We call that human trafficking today.
Then there is the Apostle Paul who in his pre-apostolic days was a religious terrorist--tracking down, terrorizing, and persecuting Christians, then agreeing to their murders.
Compose a list of the "Most Disliked Men in the Bible" and Judah and Paul are both in the running -- significantly outdistancing any NFL player considered by Forbes.
But God's redemptive powers are at work in both stories, and both men make dramatic U-turns. Judah later puts his own life on the line to rescue the youngest of Jacob's sons. Paul becomes the great apostle of the Christian gospel and will eventually suffer martyrdom in the movement he once fought to crush.
The reversals are staggering, but much needed reminders that no one is beyond hope.
Redemptive powers are at work in the Michael Vick story too. Animal lovers (who presumably are well-represented among the 1,100 fans polled) may have a long memory, but the lovers of redemptive stories will find much to celebrate here.
I don't think it's overstating things to say Michael Vick's story is possibly the most significant story playing out in the NFL today.
Naming Vick as the most disliked NFL player of 2013 serves no useful purpose and cheats us all of the kind of hope his story offers -- the kind of hope we need to hear when there is so much in the news to dishearten.
Vick's U-turn sends a message of hope to countless young men who have gotten off-track and need a story like this to remind them there is hope for them too. The beautiful father-son relationship between Vick and the highly esteemed Super Bowl winning coach, Tony Dungy, is a welcome breath of fresh air in our father-hungry culture. The Philadelphia Eagles' offer of a second chance to a gifted athlete underscores the possibility that there can be new beginnings. With God's help, Vick is turning his life around. Four years and counting, he is moving steadily forward.
Rather than pointing to the past, wouldn't we all be better served to be cheering him on? For that matter, maybe Forbes could use a little redemption too -- a polling U-turn by throwing out the "Most Disliked NFL Players" poll to consider polling the "Most Redemptive Stories of 2013."