But if he’s got the money, we’ve got the time.
Long before Michael Vick became an Eagle, local animal activists were whispering an uncomfortable truth: “Frankly, Vick’s the best thing to ever happen to pit bulls,” they’d say, because at least he sparked mainstream discussion and awareness of dogfighting. But, the same way Chris Brown punching Rihanna in the face led to a brief spotlight on teenage domestic violence, the attention does little to curb the problem.
The any-publicity-is-good-publicity approach is the perspective taken by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), who have endorsed Vick, reasoning that he can use his celebrity to further their agenda. He’s reportedly already been in Atlanta schools preaching to kids that dogfighting is wrong and that they should love their pets. HSUS CEO Wayne Purcell, settling for scraps, has said that he is “hopeful” that Vick “will stick to it.”
The HSUS strategy is half-assed. True, Vick’s crimes stirred up mainstream discussion of dogfighting and educated a few people about its ills. But on the flip side, the publicity surrounding his crime also reinforced the characterization of pit bulls as violent creatures—a stereotype responsible for the excess of pits packed into shelters all over the country.
In Philadelphia’s Animal Care & Control Team (ACCT) shelter on Hunting Park Ave., almost all the dogs on death row are pit bulls. These animals, once referred to as “the nanny breed” because of their fiercely loyal nature, have a serious PR problem, and Vick’s case hurt nationwide efforts to “re-brand” the dogs as lovable and adoptable.
In his 60 Minutes (America’s favorite confession booth) interview last Sunday night, Vick was so busy clumsily attempting to toot his own PR horn that he didn’t have any air left to help out the pits or educate people that they aren’t natural-born killers. The former overlord of an interstate dogfighting ring didn’t express much compassion for the dogs murdered and tortured—by electrocution, hanging and drowning—on his watch. There was no remorse for the 66 damaged animals and eight dead ones dug up from shallow graves in his yard. Instead, Vick talked about how being in jail had him totally bummin’.
“The first day I walked into prison and they slammed that door, I knew the magnitude of the decisions that I made,” said Vick. “I let myself down, you know, not being out on the football field, being in a prison bed, in a prison bunk, writing letters home, you know. That wasn’t my life. That wasn’t the way that things was supposed to be.”
In a city where the majority of animals are killed due to underfunded services, money talks and bullshit walks. Vick’s display of unbridled narcissism set his campaign back a bit, with local television news airing man-on-the-street interviews with fans who weren’t quite sure if he was truly sorry. But this is the thing: Here in Philly, it really doesn’t matter. As one of the most woefully funded programs in the country, we don’t need a convincing apology or proof of regret from Vick. We need money.
To that end, Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) isn’t wasting time commenting on Vick’s feelings or scouring his televised eyeballs for contrition. Instead, they’re publicly calling on Vick to ante up cold hard cash.
“The Eagles have made their business decision and while we are deeply disappointed, we do not believe protesting will change that,” wrote Melissa Levy, director of PAWS in a public statement. “Instead, we invite Michael Vick to begin to make amends for the damage he has done to an entire population of dogs, pit bulls, the only way he can: by stepping up and donating a generous portion of his salary to groups dedicated to saving them. Michael Vick will in no way serve as a representative for PAWS or be allowed anywhere near our animals, but he can help us make a significant difference in their lives.”
Levy says media keep asking her if she “believes Vick should be forgiven.”
“I think that whether he’s truly sorry or not doesn’t really matter, it’s a matter of what he does concretely to demonstrate it,” she says. “So let’s see if we can exert what little control we have to bring about something positive from it. I don’t think that apologies are enough or even relevant.”
Meanwhile, the notoriously troubled PSPCA, the organization that handles cruelty cases statewide and runs the animal shelter in Philadelphia—where the majority of animals killed are pit bulls—is taking on the most interesting strategy of all by doing nothing. Are the folks at PSPCA ever going to seize Vick’s signing as an opportunity and shake him down for much-needed cash?
No one knows. Other than a statement on their homepage declaring that they didn’t know about Vick’s signing before it happened, they’ve issued no formal statement and though promised, didn’t return PW ’s phone call for comment.
The bottom line is that we don’t need symbolic gestures or a convincing public apology from Vick because it wouldn’t help anything (except his career) or make a real difference. The same goes for the fans and would-be fans. The Eagles will not be fiscally hurt by the few ticket- holders who sell their tickets on Craigslist (um, into the hands of people eager to attend a game) or sign online petitions. Not that boycotting the Eagles is a bad idea on a personal level. It’s a noble and decent personal policy to not support people or companies one finds disgusting. But realize that it won’t make a difference. It’s a done deal.
Vick will play. If he plays well, and if the Eagles win or in keeping with Philly tradition, almost-win, headlines will crow about the “Vick-tory.” The lion’s share of the current anti-Vick boycotters will be watching games by then and probably even shouting his name as he sprints down the field. Protests, apologies and heartfelt cries of personal redemption are just fine, but ineffective. Philly animal welfare organizations—calling PSPCA, come in PSPCA—animal supporters and Mayor Nutter need to get behind this singular idea: The only way Vick can begin to make up for his heinous crimes is by dedicating a generous portion of his salary to animal welfare organizations here, and on top of preaching about how dogfighting sucks, help change the public perception of pit bulls as volatile killers since, after all, he perpetuated that stereotype. After that, shut up and go win us a Super Bowl. ■
After news of Mike Vick’s signing to the Eagles hit like an atom bomb last Thursday, I—like Ghandi with headphones—started combing through my iTunes to make a mixtape for him and for the city, to begin the healing.
Even before Michael Vick arrived in Philly, the city was known as a mecca of dogfighting. Egregious violations were met with a slap on the wrist. Now one offender has been sent to prison. Will more follow?
On the weekend of February 19, there were three serious pit bull attacks across Philadelphia. Following the attacks, there was a predictable back-and-forth between advocates of pit bull regulation and those who defended the dogs.
The problem is not the “pit bull” belonging to Jacob Lambert’s neighbors—the problem is the system.