Things are not looking good for Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick. As everyone knows by now, Vick was indicted on federal charges that he was involved in an illegal dogfighting operation at an estate he owns in Virginia. He has been told by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell not to report to training camp. Vickâ€™s initial court appearance tomorrow in Richmond, Virginia is before a judge known to be a hardliner. One of Vickâ€™s commercial sponsors, has taken a football training shoe named after him off the market. AirTran, a discount airline headquartered in Orlando, also dumped Vick as their pitchman. Other endorsements, for which Vick made $7 million last year are not likely to renew, and that includes Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods, and Hasbro, one of the largest toy and game companies in the world. As we said, Michael Vickâ€™s future is not looking good.
For openers, Michael Vick apparently does not know that, after Great Britain, the U.S. is home to some of the most fervent and devoted dog lovers on the face of the earth. Imagine their fury when Vick was revealed as a principal in “Bad Newz Kennels,” a group of guys who raise pit bulls to fight each other to the death. If the losing dog isnâ€™t killed in the ring, it is often shot, electrocuted, hanged, drowned, or body slammed into the ground. Some observers say they have seen Vick personally involved in these atrocities. The future for Vick is indeed bleak.
The latest issue of Advertising Age, the bible for advertisers and their agencies, says the future of Michael Vick is uncertain as an endorser, professional athlete, and even a free man (ouch!). If convicted of the charges against him, Vick could serve up to six years in prison and face $350,000 in fines. A statement from Nike, the shoe people referred to earlier, called the fighting allegations “inhumane, abhorrent, and highly disturbing.”
Michael Vickâ€™s jersey sales are plummeting, writes Tim Tucker in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Two years ago Vickâ€™s jersey was number two among NFL players in jersey sales. They are now 33rd. The article quotes a sports business authority as saying Vick is going to “disappear like a magic act.” While the American public is forgiving, reports Tucker, the heinous nature of what went on at Vickâ€™s Virginia property is going to make it almost impossible for him to repair his public image.
To make matters even worse (if thatâ€™s possible), last year a woman charged Vick with knowingly giving her genital herpes. That case was settled out of court. Earlier this year, screeners at airport security in Miami confiscated a water bottle belonging to Vick with a secret compartment that they claimed contained a drug-like substance. Nothing came of that incident. In yet another episode, Vick flipped the bird to some unappreciative fans in the Georgia Dome last November. That gesture cost him $10,000 in a fine imposed by the NFL. So Vick does not enter this latest proceeding squeaky clean.
Those who make up the ranks of The People Against Michael Vick are not squeaky clean either. Racism has already reared its repugnant head. Dave Zirin, writing in The Nation, said there have been postings on websites calling to “hang Vick from a tree.” And Zirin notes that these cybercommentators have also made liberal use of the N-word. He also points out the double standard of those outraged by the treatment of the pit bulls, but who remain insensitive to the consequences of violent sports in which death or permanent injury can occur at any moment. “When the fury of NFL football fails to remain safely contained on the field, as in Vickâ€™s case,” writes Zirin, “the sports establishment throws up its hands in horror.”
Ours is a society that condones extreme violence in war, film, and sport. Havenâ€™t we paved the way for the brutal exploitation of animals as well, Zirin asks in his piece, “Who Let the Dogs Out on Michael Vick?” Without condoning the wretched spectacle of dogfighting, Zirin calls it “trickle-down violence” from a sport – professional football – in which any given play can be a playerâ€™s last. As for the racism that has surfaced in the Vick debacle, it would be grossly incorrect to state, as many have, that dog fighting is a product of “brothers from the hood.” Dogfighting has traditionally been a white, redneck crime and only recently has embraced racial diversity.
Itâ€™s hard to believe that Michael Vick could be so clueless as not to recognize the bond that has existed some 14,000 years between man and dog. The dogâ€™s first alliance with man certainly involved hunting, for which it was rewarded with some of the scraps from the kill and a warm place around the fire. Since then dogs have learned to provide services to the blind, the autistic, the elderly, and the very young. There are now guard dogs, drug dogs, search dogs, and rescue dogs. Some of the blood on the ground at the World Trade Center following 9/11 came from the paws of cadaver dogs exploring the glass and metal-strewn rubble for remains.
No one who raises dogs simply to place wagers on their fight to the death, can begin to understand the unconditional love one receives from a dog. Even abusive humans are loved by their dog victims. It would have been quite natural for one of those pit bulls to wag its tail or lick the hand of the individual who was about to body slam it to the ground. Over the centuries, dogs have genetically acquired an insight about humans and how to serve them in return for food and care. To make enemies of Americaâ€™s dog lovers is perhaps the one unforgivable sin.
Dr. Boyce Watkins, a finance professor at Syracuse University, has a message for Michael Vick, speaking to him as a “brother.” He believes that Vick needs a moment of clarity. “When you are a franchise player, you have to realize that youâ€™re not in college anymore, youâ€™re not a kid. You are a pro football player and a multimillion dollar brand. This dogfighting scandal can cause you to lose everything youâ€™ve worked for. It can make your mama cry at the end of the day, and your kids embarrassed to see you on TV. All I can say brother is â€˜handle your business,â€™ and Iâ€™m not just talking about money.”
Good advice, Professor Watkins. Unfortunately it may come, as they say, a day late and a dollar short.