COURAGE is a trait that's essential for a child's emotional development. When a child has the courage of his convictions, he's usually destined to travel the right path in life.
When I think of courageous athletes, I think of Pat Tillman, who gave up a multimillion-dollar NFL contract to enlist. He died as an Army Ranger defending our country in Afghanistan.
Courageous people are inspirational. I think of the Chinese students who faced down the tanks in Tiananmen Square. I think of Martin Luther King Jr. and the freedom riders facing down cops with dogs to defeat racism in the South. I think of our police, firefighters and EMTs who risk their lives every day keeping our communities and citizens safe.
I don't think of someone maiming and torturing dogs in a savage and cowardly way as an example of courage. But many Eagles apparently think otherwise.
Last week, Eagles players voted Michael Vick as the team's recipient of the 2009 Ed Block Courage Award. Block was a longtime trainer for the Baltimore Colts and a legendary humanitarian. In partnership with the NFL, the Ed Block Courage Award Foundation uses the annual awards to raise money to help neglected and abused children.
THE foundation Web site tells us that the recipient of the award should "exemplify commitments to the principles of sportsmanship and courage." It also says the recipient should be a "community role model." Since the award's inception, there have been scores of deserving and inspirational recipients.
You'd think that, based on the criteria, Vick wouldn't even make it on the first ballot, given his conviction for torturing and killing dogs in his illegal dogfighting operation. Yet he won in a unanimous vote.
Many of the 31 other NFL winners were humble in accepting the award. Quite a few said there were teammates who were more deserving. Sadly, Vick displayed none of that grace, saying, "I've overcome a lot more than probably one single individual can handle or bear." He continued: "You ask certain people to walk through my shoes, they probably couldn't do it. Probably 95 percent of the people in this world, because nobody has to endure what I've been through."
Hardly the words of a man who is contrite and realizes how far he has to go to make amends.
Besides Vick and his self-pity, the real culprits are his fellow players. Rich Hofmann, the Daily News sports columnist, wrote that in his talks with the players throughout the season, it was clear they thought Vick's punishment was overly severe and was only done because of his celebrity. So this was their chance to send the public, especially the critics of Vick, a message.
I see this as more evidence of the insulated, delusional world that many pro athletes inhabit, and it starts at an early age.
Kids as young as 10 and 12 who show athletic talent are coddled and glorified. When they reach high school, they often become big men on campus, placed in a cocoon of privilege where the usual rules rarely apply.
All this is prelude to an amazing high-school ritual in the senior year. When the "student-athlete" (a real oxymoron) is ready to choose a college, giddy principals and athletic directors arrange a news conference in which the athlete fools around with hats with logos of various colleges before putting the winning school's hat on his head.
Have you ever seen the schools do this with the kid who is headed to the Ivy League?
Vick no doubt received all these messages as he advanced to become one of the country's elite athletes.
When he joined the Eagles after his release from prison, there was a loud public backlash, followed by announcements that he'd be working with the Humane Society to stop dogfighting.
But all we've seen were a few vague school presentations about dogs and violence. Like his role in the Eagles' Wildcat formation, Vick's community outreach has seemed to fizzle out.
Promises have been replaced by self-pity.
Vick has in no way demonstrated sportsmanship and courage, nor has he shown in his words and actions that he's a community role model. So, the unanimous vote from teammates says that - surprise! - the usual criteria don't apply to a professional athlete.