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May 16, 2011

"Rose (and others) deserve our forgiveness"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable recent commentary in Cincinnati Enquirer authored by David Singleton, the Executive Director of the Cincinnati-based Ohio Justice & Policy Center.  Here is how the commentary links baseball and criminal justice policy through the notion of forgiveness:

In the words of philosopher Jacques Barzun, "Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball."  Barzun's quote implies, as several scholars have argued, that baseball is a prism reflecting core American values, such as hard work, fair play, high aspirations and pulling together for the common good.

Forgiveness and redemption are essential to these ideals -- our dedication to them is shown not when the going is easy, but when circumstances test our commitment.  The case of Pete Rose, the all-time Major League Baseball hits leader banned from the sport for betting on baseball, gives America's game the opportunity to send a powerful message to society about the necessity of giving second (and, if necessary, third, fourth and fifth chances) to those who break the rules.

Forgiveness and redemption have always been at the heart of America's identity.  These concepts are central to all major religious traditions, including those upon which our country was founded.  Former President George W. Bush acknowledged as much when he said during his 2004 State of the Union Address: "America is the land of second chance --and when the gates of the prison open, the path ahead should lead to a better life."

President Bush's words resonate with us because we've all made mistakes, some, of course, more serious than others.  And we all hope not to be judged forever by the worst we have done but instead by the best we have to offer.

But when it comes to the transgressions of others, too frequently we withhold the forgiveness we seek for ourselves, especially when the wrong committed is serious.  We are quick to judge, condemn and ostracize people who have committed felonies or otherwise broken the social contract in significant ways.  We call those who have done wrong "criminals," "felons" and "convicts" -- labels we use to dehumanize people to justify our denial to them of full membership in the community.  With those labels, we cut people off from America's most distinguishing value: aspiration to better oneself and make life better for those around us.

Each year approximately 700,000 people return from prison to communities across the United States.  For most, job prospects are bleak.  Not only are employers reluctant to hire someone with a felony record, but state and local laws limit the types of jobs those with criminal records can pursue.  In Ohio alone there are more than 400 state laws that restrict employment options for ex-offenders.  And without employment, ex-offenders are severely limited in their ability to get back on their feet and productively rejoin society. In recognition of this fact, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder of the Department of Justice (DOJ) sent a letter to each state on April 18, asking each to review its laws that prevent people with criminal records from obtaining jobs....

So what does any of this have to do with Pete Rose and Major League Baseball? If baseball truly reflects our core values, including forgiveness and redemption, then Major League Baseball should reinstate Rose and make him eligible for the Hall of Fame....

Lifting Rose's lifetime ban would not only benefit baseball -- the Hall of Fame is diminished by the Hit King's absence -- but it would also reinforce the broader social importance of not writing off forever people who have made serious mistakes.  America has always taken pride in fostering the highest aspirations of its citizens, regardless of their past deeds or present circumstances.  Major League Baseball has a golden opportunity to truly promote forgiveness and redemption, the values inherent in the game itself.

May 16, 2011 at 06:17 PM | Permalink


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"The case of Pete Rose...gives America's game the opportunity to send a powerful message to society about the necessity of giving second (and, if necessary, third, fourth and fifth chances) to those who break the rules."

I'm glad, I guess, to see that the torch has been passed from, "They're all innocent!" to "Actually they're not, but not much should happen anyway."

P.S. If you're getting a third, fourth and fifth pass on playing by the rules, why bother to play by them at all? Let suckers play by the rules. With a lifetime pass on accountability, it's obvious that you should do whatever you feel like.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 16, 2011 7:10:42 PM

A major problem in this country is that we have begun defining "forgiveness" as "eliminate punishment."

We can forgive Rose and still make him serve out his rightful punishment, a lifetime ban from baseball. I was a kid when Rose was banned and was crushed. I have forgiven him, yet, he should still pay for his indiscretion.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | May 17, 2011 12:29:22 PM

TarlsQtr makes a good point. Punishment and forgiveness are not mutually exclusive; we don't have to choose one or the other.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 17, 2011 3:22:11 PM

i have to agee with bill and tarls as well. those are two seperate and distinct items.

Posted by: rodsmith | May 17, 2011 4:26:21 PM

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