Pro sports fans guarantee forgiveness to misbehaving athletes

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By ALYSHA TSUJI
College Contributor Network

A redemption tale is the greatest storyline in sports. The journey from the bottom to the top: jumping the economic ranks of society, climbing a team's depth chart, rising above a heavy personal situation.

When everything pans out as planned, the result is inspiring. But life rarely follows a script reminiscent of a Hollywood movie. Oftentimes people fall through the cracks and never find success. Other times, a misstep forces people off track.

Professional sports provide a world stage. The redemptions, comebacks and failures are thrust into the limelight, yet they aren't all treated equally. Some players are driven into the ground and ostracized (Delonte West: accused of sleeping with then-teammate LeBron James' mom). Some players are given a second chance (Tiger Woods: confessed to having affairs with 120 women).

West will spend next season playing for the Chinese Basketball Association's Shanghai Sharks. Meanwhile, Woods continues to enjoy fame and billions of dollars. Both of them received revival opportunities -- and rightfully so -- just not to the same extent.

In sports, forgiveness is guaranteed.

Taking into account the paths some athletes forged to get to where they're at makes excuses easier for the public to swallow. A great deal of come-up sports stars hail from underprivileged backgrounds. Michael Vick participated in a dogfighting ring. Adrian Peterson beat his 4-year-old son. Ray Rice knocked out his wife. Following each incident, writers defended their actions with the "they did bad things because of how they were raised" reasoning.

Maybe it's true. Perhaps Vick, Peterson and Rice's childhood experiences led them to sincerely believe they weren't in the wrong. Regardless, people forgave Vick. He benefited by carefully rebuilding his image to the point where he's now a model of how to rise up after you've been knocked down. It won't be surprising if Peterson and Rice follow suit a couple years down the road.

Success breeds hope. At the end of the day, triumphs trump losses, except when scandal peaks the public's interest. In that case, stories can take a sharp turn for the worst. The forgiveness warranty doesn't wear off, but it materializes slower.

Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan are still experiencing the aftershocks of the their disaster 20 years ago when Harding's ex-husband whacked Kerrigan in the knee, barring Kerrigan from competing against Harding in the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating championship.

It exploded into an international crisis. Harding salvaged herself by spinning the controversy of whether or not she ordered the "hit" on her rival skater. She graced reality TV and a sex tape, and the world ate it up. Although Harding and Kerrigan feel blowback, it's in a more obsessive tone than an abusive one.

The ice skating scandal captures a more playful side of public acceptance -- it turned into a captivating train wreck that no one could look away from.

On the other hand, there are the incidents that people have no choice but to confront head-on -- sports situations that force the public to pay attention because they link to greater societal issues. In these instances, the masses put pressure on the athletes, but in reality, the masses have an identical weight of pressure on themselves.

The people's response is just as important to examine, as is the deed that prompted it. Rape and sex addictions are polarizing topics. Pull out the cases of Kobe Bryant and Tiger Woods to see how sports took those respective topics and splashed them nationwide on newscasts, in magazines and in daily conversations.

Both generated heated debate. And, oddly enough, like the loyal dog trotting behind, forgiveness found them too.

As Bryant dealt with rape allegations in 2003, pundits said he'd never recover, that it'd taint his image forever -- 11 years later, I beg to differ.

When Woods admitted to committing adultery by having sexual relations with 120 women, the public was disgusted. Sponsors left Woods and his career image began to crumble; yet no one can argue with his on-field talent. He still draws incomparable crowd sizes and television ratings.

Segue to LeBron James: The man who tore out the hearts of Cleveland Cavalier fans when he took his talents to South Beach, only to return two rings later. His decision to leave Ohio prompted fans to burn their jerseys and make James Public Enemy No. 1. Clevelanders welcoming him back this summer with arms wide open demonstrates the breadth of a fan base's ability to forgive and forget. James' antics were likened to that of the Prodigal Son.

Not every story has a fairytale ending, but every fan base has the capacity to forgive, no matter how heinous the crime may seem. The rise from the rubble and the struggle that ensues define sports, and life.

If a second chance comes along, take it and capture it, don't let it slip. Despite the commonalities of second chances in sports, in life they're few and far between.


Alysha Tsuji is a senior Journalism major at Pepperdine University. Her passion lies in sports media, namely when it comes to covering the NBA. Follow her on Twitter: @AlyshaTsuji
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