Watching new Eagle Vick “like a hawk”
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 2009:
PHILADELPHIA–Michael Vick, considered possibly the best
quarterback in the National Football League before becoming the most
notorious dogfighter ever, is again playing football. Rising to
stardom with the Atlanta Falcons before his April 2007 arrest in
connection with dogfighting, the 29-year-old Vick is now an
expensive backup for the Philadelphia Eagles, behind five-time Pro
Bowl quarterback Donovan McNabb.
“I lobbied to get him here,” said McNabb. “I believe in
second chances and what better place to get a second chance.”
Whether Vick was a football star gone bad or a would-be
dogfighter who happened to be good at football is among the open
questions among observers. Vick set up his dogfighting operation,
Bad Newz Kennels, in 2001, the same year he became the first pick
in the NFL draft.
“Everything that happened at that point in my life was
wrong,” Vick said at the press conference called to announce his
August 13, 2009 signing with the Eagles. “I had to reach a turning
point. Prison definitely did it for me. I want to be an ambassador
to the NFL and the community. I won’t disappoint,” Vick pledged.
Interviewed by James Brown of 60 Minutes, Vick said he feels
“some tremendous hurt behind what happened,” acknowledged that he
should have taken “the initiative to stop it all, but didn’t,” and
when asked if he was more concerned about playing football or his
canine victims, he responded, “Football don’t even matter.”
Vick’s remarks on both occasions paralleled a brief statement
issued almost immediately after his signing by American SPCA
president Ed Sayres.
“The ASPCA expects Mr. Vick to express remorse for his
actions, as well as display more compassion and sound judgment this
time around than he did during his previous tenure with the NFL,”
Sayres said. “We hope that Mr. Vick uses his stature for the
betterment of the community and the advancement of the issue of
Conditionally reinstated as an eligible player by NFL
commissioner Roger Goodell in July, Vick “will be considered for
full reinstatement and to play in regular season games by Week 6 [of
the NFL season],” the league said in a prepared statement.
“I accept that you are sincere when you say that you want to,
and will, turn your life around, and that you intend to be a
positive role model for others,” said Goodell in reinstating Vick.
“I am prepared to offer you that opportunity. Needless to say, your
margin for error is extremely limited,” Goodell cautioned. “I urge
you to take full advantage of the resources available to support you.”
Vick joined the Eagles after making two appearances arranged
by the Humane Society of the U.S. The first, at the New Life
Community Center in Decatur, an Atlanta suburb, “was largely off
limits to the very neighborhood it was supposed to be helping,”
reported Associated Press sportswriter Paul Newberry, who with a
photographer and a videographer was barred from the building.
“In an agreement between Vick’s handlers and the Humane
Society of the United States, only 55 people and one media crew were
allowed inside,” wrote Newberry.
“I pushed for his participation at this previously planned
Saturday afternoon class for people engaged in our Atlanta program,”
HSUS president Wayne Pacelle told ANIMAL PEOPLE. “For his first
statement, he and his people picked a large platform,” the 60
Minutes interview with Brown, whose crew were the only media
admitted, “and they didn’t want to fritter it away by speaking
piecemeal. It was a little uncomfortable for us,” Pacelle said,
“since we are generally very accommodating to all press requests.”
Pacelle hoped that Vick would later “be more open to
interviews and to allowing press into the events where he appears.”
Four days later Vick spoke at the Liberation Christian Center
in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago’s South Side. “When the
Vick case broke two years ago, I would not have imagined that I’d
eventually see Vick share the pulpit with other reformed dogfighters
turned HSUS advocates, telling kids from personal experience not to
go down this dead-end path,” said HSUS vice president Mike
Markarian, who attended the gathering.
“Heightened awareness brought by his celebrity helped us pass
tougher animal fighting laws in 24 states,” as well as at the
federal level, Markarian recalled. “We need strong laws against
cruelty,” Markarian said, “but the laws can only go so far. We
also need community-based outreach. Michael Vick served nearly two
years in prison, and told the young people at Englewood that he had a
lot of time to reflect on the way he had lived his life. He said
that he knows what he did to animals was wrong, and that he now
wants to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. He said
that if he can steer 50, or 100, or 1,000 kids away from
dogfighting, then he can help more animals than he harmed.”
Testimony from co-defendants in the Vick case indicated that
Vick was personally involved in killing at least eight dogs.
“Philadelphia is a city of dog lovers and, most particularly, pit
bull lovers,” said Pennsylvania SPCA chief executive Susan Cosby.
“To root for someone who participated in the hanging, drowning,
electrocution and shooting of dogs will be impossible for many.”
Said spokesperson Dan Shannon, “PETA and millions of decent
football fans around the world are disappointed that the Eagles
decided to sign a guy who hung dogs from trees, electrocuted them
with jumper cables, and held them under water.”
Added PETA in a prepared statement, “He has served his
reduced sentence, but no child should ever look up to Vick. We are
going to watch him like a hawk.”
Main Line Animal Rescue founder Bill Smith told Associated
Press writer Ron Todd that his organization would rent three
billboards near the Eagles’ stadium to protest against the Vick
signing. “I’m really shocked that he’s coming to Philadelphia,”
said Smith. “He keeps talking about second chances. His dogs didn’t
have a second chance. There are a lot of people out there who
deserve second chances more than Michael Vick.”
But Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell endorsed the HSUS perspective.
“I don’t have to take a backseat to anyone in my commitment
to helping protect all animals, and specifically our dogs and
puppies,” Rendell said. “I also believe strongly in the tenets of
rehabilitation and redemption. I believe Michael Vick has paid a
strong and just penalty for his horrific acts, but he has endured
that penalty with dignity and grace. He seems to be genuinely
Looking at Rendell’s record on dog law enforcement, Jon
Hurdle of The New York Times noted Rendell’s role in reinforcing the
applicable state legislation in 2008. “Since last December,”
Rendell wrote, “officials have revoked or refused 11 kennel
licenses. They are in the process of revoking three more. Before
the 2008 law was passed, officials had already stepped up efforts to
regulate the kennels, revoking 41 licenses in 2007 and in early
2008, compared with only 3 in 2006,” under Rendell’s predecessor.
“What Vick did was certainly awful,” Animal Liberation
author Peter Singer told Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Daniel
Rubin. “But many people do or participate in things regarding
animals that are awful. For example,” Singer said, “the kinds of
things that are done to pigs to turn them into ham or bacon are
awful, but we don’t care as much about pigs. And I think there is
every reason to believe that pigs are as sensitive and intelligent as
dogs. The people who are very quick to jump on Michael Vick maybe
could spend some time thinking about how they participate in cruelty
to animals just by walking into the supermarket,” Singer suggested.
“Fervent animal lovers won’t forget just because Vick scores
a touchdown,” assessed Associated Press sportswriter Dan Gelston.
“Devoted Eagles fans won’t care if Vick starts every day with a visit
to an animal shelter as long as he scores touchdowns.
“About two dozen protesters gathered outside the Eagles
practice facility in opposition to the signing,” Gelston noted,
“one holding a sign that read, ‘Hide your beagle, Vick is an Eagle.”
Among more than 33,000 Eagles fans who voted in a Philly.com
online poll, 51% opposed signing Vick; 49% approved.
“Two years ago,” recalled Judy Battista of the New York
Times, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie “said he would never allow someone
involved with dogfighting on the Eagles. Without naming Vick, he
alluded to two former Eagles who were charged with animal cruelty and
But pro football and pit bull issues have crossed before in
the Philadelphia area. Former NFL running back Todd McNair, later a
running backs coach for the University of Southern California, was
fined $500 in July 1993 for alleged neglect of pit bulls. McNair was
also fined $100 for contempt of court for failing to donate $250 to
an animal shelter, as stipulated in his sentencing agreement.
In March 1994 police shot a pit bull whom they believed
belonged to McNair, after the pit bull attacked another neighborhood
dog, and found six other pit bulls chained in McNair’s yard.
In 1996 McNair was charged with 81 offenses involving 22 pit
bulls, including 17 who were found chained to trees on his property,
plus five puppies. Convicted in October 1996 of 22 counts of
misdemeanor neglect, McNair paid fines and restitution totaling
$16,226.50. McNair was not penalized by his teams or by the NFL.
Tips relayed to police and the Pennsylvania SPCA after Vick
was arrested in 2007 reportedly contributed to apprehending at least
four suspected dogfighters in Philadel-phia and surrounding suburbs.
Among them, Sidney Prosser, 37, posing as a rescuer and
breeder, had 22 pit bulls. He eventually pleaded guilty to keeping
dogs for fighting. A neighbor, Barry White, had 18 pit bulls.
White pleaded guilty to related charges, and faced similar charges
in North Carolina. Despite the proximity of the defendants, police
said there was no direct link between the Prosser and White cases.
The Vick case broke shortly after Henry J. Brotnitsky, 33,
pleaded guilty to cruelty in connection with dogfighting.
Brotnit-sky, of Winslow, New Jersey, just north of Philadelphia,
“admitted in court to killing a dog with an electric shock after the
dog lost a fight” in October 2005, summarized Philadelphia Inquirer
staff writer Troy Graham.
Police found 43 pit bulls on Brotnitsky’s premises, plus a
55-minute video of the fight that Brotnitsky’s dog lost. Brotznitzky
in March 2007 accepted a plea bargain sentence consisting of “five
years’ probation and a 364-day jail sentence, including 60 days
served inside the jail. The rest can be served on house arrest or on
a work detail,” Graham said.
Philadelphia has been a reputed hub of dogfighting at least
since 1992, when the first coordinated multi-state arrests in
dogfighting cases nabbed defendants there and in the Detroit area.
Two years later the Pennsyl-vania SPCA became one of the first animal
agencies to catch an employee in the act of conveying shelter animals
to dogfighters, a problem now known to have occurred at shelters
throughout the U.S. and Canada.
A June 2006 raid on the Down Low night club in the
Philadelphia suburb of Allentown reportedly exposed one of the most
sophisticated dogfighting set-ups yet discovered by law enforcement.
Eleven defendants were charged, seven with felonies.