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Over the last couple of weeks, I have thought a lot about the headline stories on page one of most newspapers a couple of Mondays ago and their meaning.  All newspapers pretty much covered two stories on page one — one being the amazing win by the Warner Robins Little League team of the Little League World Series in the finals of the only true world championship there is for baseball.

The second story in the news was Michael Vick’s guilty plea for bankrolling dog fighting, helping personally to eliminate some dogs and engaging in gambling on those activities.

His plea bargain did not really address whether he recognizes what everyone knows, that he would probably still be proclaiming his innocence if his buddies had not turned states evidence.   So much for his lifelong friends protecting the deep pockets who financed what was apparently a business and a sport operation.

The two articles leave one to wonder — who’s the real role model here?

Between these two, who should a child admire and emulate?

The 7th graders playing baseball before millions and the focus of media from around the world seemed solidly grounded and not awed by the limelight.

They said gracious things and were not as impressed by the fact that Gov. Perdue has met the President as they were by the fact he had met one of the players from last year’s winning Columbus team.

Apparently these are not athletes recruited from far and wide to play on a traveling all-star team, but good players from Warner Robins. And the Georgia team going over to console the Japanese team appeared to be a genuine and spontaneous gesture. I think we would all want our children and grandchildren to behave this way in their moment before the whole world.

Contrast that scene with the downfall of arguably the most talented football player in America.

Michael Vick only pleaded guilty when he had no other choice. Denial had become his habit — from the false bottom water bottle at the airport to the denial to Falcons leadership of any direct activity with the dog fighting operation. It reminds me of what we hear from kids today who are accused of virtually anything — deny, deny deny — until somebody can prove they are guilty...and yes, you hear it from politicians, too, another group who often have feet of clay.

My wife was an alternative school principal for several years — long enough to see some sad patterns. Children in the alternative school who got in trouble immediately denied anything and everything and unfortunately parents often came to the school and vehemently defended the denial. Only a video of the offense, usually fighting on the bus, sealed the case. Nobody ever confessed because it was the right thing to do only till no other options were available.

Sound familiar?

So Vick’s reaction was like a childs in a way — denial of his activity (selling the property when the story broke) and acting as if the truth would never come out.

Again, he may have depended on the silence of his friends who showed another characteristic of modern culture — they made a deal for themselves to limit their penalty and sold out their benefactor.

Michael Vick’s case is an American tragedy — Number 7 jerseys are the most popular, or close to it, of all jerseys of NFL players ever.  There was magic in his playing and in his name.

So what’s the take away for kids seeing the two lead stories in recent weeks?

On one hand they see young people acting with grace and compassion in the midst of a life-changing experience and on the other self-serving actions by a highly paid athlete.

Vick’s statement following his plea covered most everything but still centered on himself “I’ve let down the children,” I’m immature,” etc.

If he has, in fact, “found Jesus” (most find religion after they get to prison) then he could spend some time studying Jesus’ life and how he approached witnessing. Jesus led by example and was humble and serving — witness the washing of the feet of the disciples.  The phrase “Servant Leadership” has grown to mean of a humble faith-driven leader.

A few principles are still true about leadership: you can’t be a good leader until you have learned to follow and if you practice servant leadership, you and your follower both are richer for it.

If Michael Vick is contrite, here are a few suggestions as to how he could begin to be the person children look up to:

• Spend a lot of time in the future serving those in need — whether animals or humans;

• Second, talk sincerely and straight to kids about his mistakes and how he got to be where he is;

• Third, work hard at becoming the kind of person children can in fact emulate whether they wear his jersey or not.

Lastly, the world loves a reformed sinner. If Michael Vick is successful at becoming the person that Jesus would want him to be, he has a chance to be more admired as a person than he ever was as a football player.