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Michael Vick’s Long, Strange Detour
Posted on Sep 27, 2009
By T.L. Caswell
Quoting an NBC Sports Web site:
In July 2008, while he was in prison, Vick filed for bankruptcy protection. Although news reports at the time differed on his assets and debts, most of the accounts said he reported owing $10 million to $50 million to creditors and that his assets were in the same range.
Documents in the bankruptcy proceeding said Vick owed the Falcons $3.75 million, bonus money the Atlanta team was seeking to recover on the ground that he had broken his contract.
The football salary was gone, the endorsements had long since evaporated. Vick, whatever his remaining assets might be, was working for less than a dollar a day in the pen.
On June 12, 2009, the Atlanta Falcons—less than five years after signing the $130 million deal—released Vick from his contract. One effect of the action was to allow him to sign with any team … if the NFL would let him return.
After 18 months in prison and two months of house arrest in Virginia, Vick emerged, and in July Commissioner Goodell promptly reinstated him, conditionally. Goodell said he hoped to grant full reinstatement by the sixth week of the NFL regular season, at the latest. The league boss was quoted as saying:
“I have thought about every alternative. But I think this gives him the best chance for success. We are not looking for a failure here, we are looking to see a young man succeed. … I do recognize that some will never forgive him for what he did. I hope that the public will have a chance to understand his position, as I have.”
This is the point where Michael Vick started kicking me around, psychologically speaking.
I had read about the scandal in 2007 and had casually followed later developments, but it wasn’t until Vick finished his prison term and got Goodell’s provisional blessing that I gave him any serious thought.
Predictably, the public outcry against Vick (along with some support for the quarterback resuming his career) resurged after Goodell announced the conditional reinstatement. It was after reading about the resulting protest that I started ruminating about dog fighting. My chow-Doberman-shepherd mongrel would look up at me through soft, intelligent eyes and I would wonder how anyone could allow two creatures of this species to lacerate or even destroy one another as a mob cheered them on. Dog fighting. Blood sport. Damn—what a premeditated evil.
Vick’s crime seemed worlds apart from some saloon flare-up in which a pro athlete breaks the nose of a guy who disses him. Dog fighting had to be carefully financed, planned and executed. And among the things Vick and his buddies had executed with premeditation were dogs that hadn’t made the grade in the pit.
A rich, applauded professional athlete somehow had allowed himself to be pulled into an old, old “sport,” one that appears to go back to pre-history, perhaps 15,000 years, to soon after dogs became man’s best friend. Sometimes, man has not been the dog’s best friend: Since ancient times, organized dog fighting has been practiced in many parts of the world.
After they pushed into Britain in the year 43, the Romans, who had taken along dogs for use against the enemy on the battlefield, were impressed with the ferocity of the British war dogs. Later, fighting dogs imported from Britain would entertain Romans in the Colosseum by going up against other animals, including elephants.
Over the centuries, the British were enthusiastic practitioners of “the sport of Queens, British nobility and society’s elite.”
University of Virginia professor Edmund P. Russell tells us that Queen Elizabeth I “helped popularize dogfighting in 16th century England,” often holding matches for visiting dignitaries. “The Queen resembled her own subjects in her passion for blood sports; the most popular was ‘bull baiting,’ or having dogs attack bulls, which provided both entertainment for the masses and also helped tenderize the bulls’ flesh before they were slaughtered for food.” It wasn’t until 1835 that Parliament outlawed dog fighting.
In the New World, dog fighting found a foothold among American colonists. The practice was legal and was sanctioned and promoted by the colonies.
Dog fighting became deeply embedded in American culture after the Staffordshire bull terrier arrived in the United States from Britain in 1817. The United Kennel Club, America’s second-oldest all-breed registry of purebred dog pedigrees, endorsed the activity, made rules to govern it and sanctioned referees. Many policemen and firemen frequented the fighting pits, and at one time the periodical Police Gazette was a source of information on dog fighting. Finally, by the 1860s, civilization won out and dog fighting was declared illegal in most states.
In New York state, all forms of animal fighting were outlawed in 1867. One year later, authorities arrested Kit Burns, the proprietor of a notorious Manhattan establishment called the Sportsman’s Hall, which contained one of the city’s biggest dog-fighting pits and where gentlemen of the day could delight in dogs shredding each other or in death matches between terriers and rats.
An animal-protection site called AnimalLaw.info, affiliated with the University of Michigan College of Law, quotes a graphic description of a dog fight from a fictionalized account based on the real-life doings at the Sportsman’s Hall. The excerpt—which accurately reflects the accounts of actual dog fights that I have read—is from “The Hungry Eye,” an illustrated novel by Joshua Brown, a scholar of 19th century American life and a professor at City University of New York. Delicate readers are urged—seriously—to skip over this passage.
I will not comment on that.
As of 2008, dog fighting was a felony in every state. In May of 2007, coincidentally at about the same time that the Vick affair was bursting into the national consciousness, a federal law against dog fighting was enacted. The Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act was designed to help Washington crack down on organized fighting involving dogs, roosters and other animals.
One sign of the ongoing prevalence of dog fighting in this country came last July 8, the date of the “largest simultaneous dog-fighting raid and rescue in United States history.” Federal, state and local authorities in six states—Missouri, Illinois, Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa and Mississippi—saved more than 400 dogs and made arrests.
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