Confession is good for the soul, so let the record show I’m a rotten sinner.

I’ve stolen, drunk to excess, sworn habitually, coveted my neighbor’s toys, harbored lust in my heart, sped, littered, lied and left the toilet seat up, among other grievous transgressions I’ll keep between myself and my Maker.

So tell me this: How sorry must I be to remain gainfully employed?

The answer varies, of course, relative to your own degree of guilt and capacity to forgive. And whatever that answer is probably determines your ability to enjoy college and professional athletics.

Seems just about everybody who plays, coaches or adjudicates the games we play and love is a royal screw-up. For me, that merely makes sports a pleasant, almost comforting microcosm of the real world. To the obnoxious, do-gooder element, it provides a minute or two of hand-wringing ammunition to aim at our shallow, sports-centric way of life before they run off and read “Twilight” or watch “America’s Got Talent.”

Convicted dog-killer Michael Vick was conditionally reinstated by the NFL before signing with the Philadelphia Eagles. Most reasonable folks accept two years’ incarceration and suspension in the prime of a lucrative career as a professional death penalty that fits that crime. Dogs are not people. Being a back-up quarterback and third-down utility man in a miserable city is the punishment that keeps on giving. Live and let live.

But nooooooo. It’s easy to predict what will happen now. Despite Vick’s contrition and the measured blessing of two of the finest men in the profession, future Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy and Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, a miniscule but insane minority will continue to characterize the player as a mass murderer. They’ll slobber and slander his name with language the rest of us would have too much compassion to direct at terrorists.

Most of them fawn over their canines while treating the humans in their lives like puppy doo. And there isn’t one who would welcome an invitation to put their own private life on the big screen and have their indiscretions analyzed.

Funny how the veneer of have-clipboard, will-travel coach, author and motivational speaker Rick Pitino was shattered to smithereens the very same week.

Pitino, in case you were too busy drawing animal blood to hurl at the Eagles’ training facility to notice, acknowledged having a sexual encounter with a woman on a restaurant table in 2003. The married father of five also told police that he gave Karen Sypher a check for $3,000 two weeks after their meeting. The funds were intended to cover either the cost of an abortion (says the police report) or health insurance (says Pitino’s attorney).

Whatever the case, it’s a potential career-killing chain of events for a man who has made a living off his reputation as a no-bull bench boss and devout Roman Catholic. He shouldn’t get points for being forthright about it, either. Don’t think for a nanosecond that you’d know about this self-described “indiscretion” unless somebody leaked it and the newspaper of record in Kentucky finally dug deeply enough to give it a sunbath.

Abortion is tricky that way. Most people with spiritual identity are against it until it’s convenient for somebody in their circle to get one. Most media, meanwhile, walk in pro-choice lockstep until the most famous person they cover allegedly chooses to finance one.

My opinion of both Vick and Pitino is both strong and, yes, a bundle of contradictions. Each engaged in behavior that was shady and disgusting. Each is deserving of relentless scrutiny. Both should expect their credibility meter to bottom out at absolute zero.

But neither man should lose his career over this. I’m mystified by the angry mob that believes otherwise. Their opinion is customarily couched in anti-sports bias. And they’re the same people who will forgive an actor for beating his spouse or driving at three times the legal threshold of intoxication, even though said actor earns five times more than a star quarterback does.

If you want a target for your righteous indignation, how about Donte Stallworth? The NFL receiver pleaded guilty to driving drunk and striking and killing an actual living, breathing, ambulatory, bi-ped human being. He served less time than you’d be jailed for jaywalking in Mississippi, then gave an ESPN interview in which he showed all the remorse of a six-year-old saying he’s sorry for stealing a candy bar while licking the evidence off his fingers.

Smack Stallworth over the head with your picket signs. Reserve your late-night talk show one-liners for him.

Let Vick and Pitino go forward with the process of rebuilding their lives. And keep those stones in your pocket. One of ’em just might bounce back at you someday.

Kalle Oakes is a staff columnist. His email is [email protected]


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