It was heartening to hear of President Barack Obama praising Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie for giving Michael Vick a second chance following the quarterback’s release from prison.
“He (Obama) said, ‘So many people who serve time never get a fair second chance,’ ” said Lurie, who did not indicate when the call occurred. “He said, ‘It’s never a level playing field for prisoners when they get out of jail.’ And he was happy that we did something on such a national stage that showed our faith in giving someone a second chance after such a major downfall.”
You can’t get better press than that. Even allowing for the fact that Vick, as a gifted athlete, is a unique case, his comeback does demonstrate the possibility of redemption and the importance of letting individuals take a crack at starting over. What would be nice now would be to see Vick play a broader role in helping other ex-offenders start anew.
They’re going to need it. Despite an apparently rosy holiday retail season, the jobs picture hasn’t improved and the indicators are not encouraging. A recent study by Rutgers University, which followed unemployed workers for 15 months noted that only a quarter had found new jobs and most of those were for lower pay and benefits. “The Shattered American Dream: Unemployed Workers lose Ground, Hope and Faith,” found that despite optimistic projections by some economists, many see the changes in the job market as structural and long-term. New York Times columnist Bob Herbert does a great job of explaining the disconnect here.
One can only hope our leaders wise up and take some action to spur real job growth sooner rather than later — and that in the meantime, enlightened employers with good stories to tell like Vick’s get the word out.
Do you know any you’d like to share?
Michael Vick’s speedy post-prison return to the NFL — complete with $10 million contract in hand — focused attention on the challenges faced by ex-offenders. Particularly those who aren’t professional athletes. Some commentators saw his supposed contrition on 60 Minutes as a slap in the face to the legions of folks who can’t even get an interview with a felony in their past. If Vick really wanted to show remorse, one editorial suggested, he could start by helping other ex-offenders find jobs.
These sentiments are understandable, but if you’re newly released and looking to start your life over, they’re also irrelevant. Yes, you heard me right. I’m not saying there aren’t plenty of former felons who are equally if not more deserving than Vick. It’s just that a superstar jock is going to get the better deal, criminal record or no. That’s our society. It stinks. It’s unfair. Then again, so is the fact that teachers are poorly paid, while the bankers who helped ruin our economy still appear to rule the world — but don’t get me started. Perhaps some day all these things will change. Right now you need to focus on your situation and how to bring about the best things for yourself going forward.
A better takeaway from Vick’s story is a tale of individual success. We can’t all be celebrity athletes, obviously, but we all have skills and experience that can benefit an organization or help someone. The key is identifying those qualities and learning how to capitalize on them. Yes, it takes persistence, but it’s also a numbers game and all you need is to get that one employer to pay attention and give you a chance. You can start building from there.
In the meantime, Vick’s situation might already be giving you a boost. Before all the publicity about his deal, the Philadelphia Mayor’s Office for the Re-entry of Ex-offenders had difficulties getting employers to hire felons even with a $10,000 tax credit thrown in, as columnist Monica Yant Kinney points out here. Since then, however, the office has experienced a record number of inquiries from companies looking to hire. So if you live in the area, this is a lead that might be worth checking out.