America often bills itself as the land of second chances, in part, because nobody wants to believe that their mistakes define them. Perfection, after all, is unattainable and when we mess up, it’s comforting to know that we’ll be afforded the opportunity to redeem ourselves.
And in most cases that’s true. When we inevitably fail, life has a distinct fashion in offering another go. However, to those of us who have depended upon the proverbial second and third and fourth chances, it’s important to remember that you’re also not entitled to a damn thing.
In life and particularly in sports, the strength of the second-chance narrative is often confused with having a fundamental right to messing up. Take former Alabama and Georgia defensive lineman Jonathan Taylor.
The Georgia native originally found himself in hot water for his role in a ring of players who were double-dipping by cashing their scholarship stipends twice, and then just a few months later, after being entered into a pre-trial diversion program, he was kicked off the Georgia football team for good when he was charged with felony domestic assault. You could make the argument that the pre-trial diversion for the fraud charge was Taylor’s second-chance, but after spending a year in junior college following his dismissal, Taylor resurfaced as an Alabama commitment despite the pending felony charges in Athens.
As Grantland’s Holly Anderson pointed out, it was curious for a lot of reasons, and many actively questioned why Alabama would be willing to take such a risk. Last weekend, Taylor was arrested for allegedly assaulting a woman whom the Tuscaloosa Police claim to be his girlfriend.
With pending legal concerns, Taylor had no business playing football at Alabama or anyplace else. He was owed no second (or third) chance, because that isn’t a God-given right, it’s an earned privilege.
Charges weren’t dropped, a jury of his peers did not acquit him, he served no time and he did nothing to prove himself rehabilitated. From a legal standpoint, only under those circumstances should anybody be afforded the luxury of another opportunity because without the threat of consequence, what natural deterrent is there other than moral obligation?
And that certainly never entered the mind of Jonathan Taylor considering he was morally obligated not to punch, choke, scratch or slap his girlfriend, and now he’s either incredibly unlucky or an empowered serial offender.
Nick Saban stood by his decision to extend Taylor an offer, accept Taylor’s commitment and facilitate his enrollment. He even went as far as to say that he was still a good person, and what’s truly warped about that is some will claim that to be an endearing quality–that Saban sticks by his players.
He did all this despite the fact that Taylor now stands accused of having battered a woman for a second time (that we know of) and he did it because he knows nothing will come of it. The potential that Taylor developed into the anvil at nose tackle in Saban’s vaunted 3-4 defense outweighed the reality that if (or when) Taylor defrauded somebody else or hit somebody else, it’d only cost Alabama a bad news cycle.
Columnists would deliver their stump speeches for a few days and then that would be that. And because we know that to be true, it’s impossible not to feel defeated by this.
Anderson’s column simply surrendered to the fact that nothing would change, and a column of considerably less stature like this one certainly won’t move the needle either, but it won’t be for a lack of trying. Because as a person who has been the benefactor of second chances earned, it bugs me endlessly to see them doled out freely because somebody tackles better than somebody else.
That’s idealistic because I know that when people have value to somebody else they’re more likely to be pardoned, but it’s not unrealistic in the sense that I’m not saying anybody who plays sports shouldn’t be given a second chance. I would merely propose that anybody dismissed from one institution with unresolved felony charges not be allowed to enroll elsewhere until the legal process takes its course.
Stop the eligibility clock so as not to penalize somebody who has been falsely accused and then when they’ve either plead out, been acquitted or served their time (when they’ve earned another chance), if they’re talented enough there will still be interest there.
Does that force people to put their life on hold for a period of what could be years? Yes, and that might not be fair, but it’s not fair for anybody else whose life is upended by the system either. And yet, every day, people work their way back into America’s good graces.
Nothing is given to them. Everything is earned.
That’s why America is the land of second chances.