Monday, August 17, 2009

Living Proof of the Walrath Postulate

The bombardment of news from Michael Vick's "Full of Remorse" Tour has been so prevalent that I half-expected him to inform James Brown last night on 60 Minutes that he was abandoning football for a career in music, having accepted an invitation to join the Black Eyed Peas under the name "Me So Sorry". And all the while that I have been listening to Vick speak, to the Humane Society speak and to the owner and coach of the Philadelphia Eagles speak, I have thought of James Walrath.

As a kid - a million or so years ago - I had Mr. Walrath as a teacher. I know he taught mathematics to me at Wardlaw-Hartridge when I was in 6th grade but I honestly cannot recall whether he was there the following year. It matters not. What does matter - in my mind's eye anyway - is that the best lesson I ever learned from Mr. Walrath had nothing to do with mathematics.

One day during class one of my buddies and I - seated in the back row - were talking and goofing around the whole time. On at least two occasions Mr. Walrath gave us the "I know what you are doing and cool it" glare and on one occasion the glare was followed by a stern "stop talking". It mattered not to either of us as we continued to talk to one another and otherwise act like idiots from our seats in the rear of the room.

About 2/3 of the way through the period, Mr. Walrath's reservoir of patience ran dry and while standing facing the black board he whirled around and threw a chalk-filled eraser towards us. I would love to say - even all these years later - that he threw it at us but he did not. We were not too terribly far away from him and he had a pretty good arm, the combination of which makes me think that had he wanted to plunk one of us, he certainly would have. Instead he threw the eraser over our heads by several feet. It struck high up on the rear wall of the classroom and fell to the ground harmlessly. As my friend (and if memory serves me it was my #1 partner in hi jinks Jon Dugenio) and I sat there jaws agape looking at one another, Mr. Walrath extended each of us an invitation to see him after class.

When class ended we approached the front of the room and before he could say a word, my friend told him that we were both sorry for what had happened in class. Instead of either accepting or dismissing our apology, Mr. Walrath asked us a question. He wanted to know, "Are you sorry for what you did or are you sorry that you got caught doing it?" I have been utterly speechless infrequently in my life (much to the chagrin of those around me) but I was at that moment. I had no idea what to say to him. Jon did. He told Mr. Walrath (answering for both of us) that initially we were sorry we had gotten caught but thinking about what we had done that made him make us stay after class to talk to him, we were sorry for being idiots.

I neither recall whether Mr. Walrath accepted Jon's explanation nor whether he disciplined us further for what we had done. I still recall - more than thirty years later - learning the "Walrath Postulate". Mr. Walrath told us that in his experience, when caught doing something one should not be doing, the "Oh my God, I am so sorry!" reaction has more to do with regret at having been caught in the act than it does genuine remorse over having acted badly.

The NFL has decreed that Michael Vick deserves a second chance to be a professional football player and the Philadelphia Eagles have signed him to play for them. Candidly, I have to laugh when I hear the mantra of "He deserves a second chance!" The next time someone tells you that, ask them why it is he does. When the inevitable Pollyanna-ish response of, "Because everyone deserves a second chance" is emitted from between their lips, feel free to test the resolve of their position. Start with historically unsavory characters - such as Adolf Hitler and Mussolini - and work your way towards more recent entries into the Rogue's Gallery such as Bernie Madoff and Jon/Kate Gosselin - to test the mettle of their belief system.

For those who wish to dry their hands with the dishrag of self-delusion regarding Vick and what he did, do not read the endless puff pieces in the press. Read the terms of his plea agreement - the agreement that his attorney entered into on his behalf and that Vick signed, waiving his right to a jury trial and to a possible acquittal on the charges against him. And for additional laughs, read the Statement of Facts that Vick agreed to, dated August 24, 2007, which set forth in excruciating detail all of the acts he himself engaged in, which facts formed the underlying basis of the plea. Included among them was Vick's admission that he, personally, was involved in the killing of six to eight dogs, killed by methods including drowning and hanging, whose greatest sin appeared to be that they had not performed well in fights and/or in "testing sessions" conducted by Vick and his band of imbecilic cohorts.

In a nutshell, the world has heard - and the Eagles have responded to - a plea for a second chance from one who extended no such courtesy himself. Not this fella. The words of Mr. Walrath ring in my ears as clearly now as they did thirty years ago. I believe now that we are witnessing living proof of the Walrath Postulate and I for one shall not buy it.

You know, upon further reflection, I realize that the other reason Michael Vick made me think of Mr. Walrath is football-related. Jon and I could not have been more than ten yards from Mr. Walrath and were wide open when he threw that eraser towards us. Yet he overthrew us badly.

-AK

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