“On August 23, 1989, as punishment for betting on baseball, Cincinnati Reds manager Pete Rose accepted a settlement that included a lifetime ban from the game. A heated debate continues to rage as to whether Rose, a former player who remains the game’s all-time hits leader, should be given a second chance.” (History.com)
Rose has recently asked that his lifetime ban be rescinded. His request is based on the totality of his contributions to baseball and the fact that his penalty for betting on baseball – which he eventually admitted to – is unfair compared to the discipline (or lack thereof) for steroids use and last season’s electronic sign stealing scandal by the Houston Astros.
Should Rose be admitted back into baseball? Should “Charlie Hustle,” still the game’s all-time hits leader compete for a place in the Hall of Fame? Possibly the answer lies in another question. Is America a forgiving nation?
If we were to be honest with ourselves, we all need forgiveness. We all err. We all sin. We all fail and some of us make grave mistakes. We all need to be forgiven at one level or another.
Forgiving someone who hurts us frees us from perpetual anger and the need for vengeance. It is an act of liberty, both for the forgiver and the one forgiven. If we really value the liberty and justice of our “One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all” Pledge of Allegiance, shouldn’t we be a forgiving nation?
Maybe, but forgiving is difficult. “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong,” according to the website dancelightly.com. Burbank, Calif., Pastor Jon Barta in a 2018 LA Times article was quoted as saying, “Forgiveness is unnatural. That is, it is unnatural to fallen people living in a fallen world – us, if the truth be admitted. Our knee-jerk reaction, and often the counsel of those around us, is to punish the offender, take retaliation against the person who hurt us, (and) remove and prevent the perpetrator from further operation.” He called us a “forgetting nation” if not a forgiving one.
And of course, forgetting … or forgiving … can be a matter of the kind and extent of the sin perpetrated. Was the act needing the forgiving an error of omission or one of commission? While we all commit both kinds of errors throughout our lives, errors of commission are harder to forgive than errors of omission. Some sinful acts are clearly worse than others, at least to our human eyes, particularly those acts of the strong harming the weak.
English poet Alexander Pope’s quote, “To err is human, to forgive divine,” implies both the power behind, and the difficulty of, forgiveness. It’s easy for us to “act” human. But to “act” divine?
That’s the reason behind all the variations of Pope’s quote we hear like, “To err is human, to blame it on the other guy is even more human.” And, “To err is human, to blame it on somebody else shows management potential.” And, “To err is human, to forgive is not Marine Corps’ policy.”
Nonetheless, some of us – even in the midst of unimaginably grave and tragic sin – find that forgiving IS our policy … they find the power and the strength to forgive. As USA Today columnist Rasha Ali reported on June 17, 2019, “Chris Singleton, a former minor league baseball player in the Chicago Cubs organization, lost his mom during the massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., on the night of June 17, 2015, when a white supremacist walked into the historically black place of worship and took nine lives.” Singleton forgave his mom’s killer. “Singleton wants people to know that forgiving his mother’s murderer wasn’t something he did just to do. ‘I truly hope that people will see that it wasn’t just us saying words,’ Singleton says. ‘I know, for a fact, that it was something greater than us, using us to bring our city together.’”
A pastor at our church was an ex-con who paid for his mistakes, repented, atoned for his sins, and made a life for himself guiding others. To say we are a forgiving nation is not a stretch for me. While it may be “unnatural” for us to forgive, the examples of Chris Singleton and our pastor bolster my own belief that we are a forgiving nation.
And so I hope baseball can forgive too. If Singleton can forgive his mom’s killer … if our pastor can rise above his sins through his atonement and redemption and the liberty of a second chance … then the leadership of our “National Pastime” can forgive too. While Rose’s acts of betting were of commission as opposed to omission, he has admitted his mistakes. In the big scheme of things, his failures were minor and he hurt himself (not others) more than the Game. And it is only a game … although a divine one.
Newspaper columnist Barry Fetzer writes from his home on Queens Creek.