Trouble keeps finding ‘Mad Dog’ Michael Vick

by Jim Longworth

Michael Vick has been a problem child ever since he donned an Atlanta Falcons uniform, but most folks just chalked it up to immaturity, such as the time he exited a visiting stadium by giving the finger to fans. He is the Barry Bonds of football. But unlike Bonds, whose biggest foul (allegedly using steroids) was self inflicted, Vick is accused of inflicting harm on others. Last week Vick was indicted and now faces charges for transporting fighting dogs across state lines and engaging in dog fighting. It seems that while hunting for drugs on Vick’s Virginia estate, police discovered 66 fighting dogs. To be fair, Michael wasn’t living at the house at the time. It was occupied by a Vick family member. But now there is evidence that the Falcon QB might have been a participant in this heinous activity. Vick is not the first pro athlete to become linked with dog fighting. In 2005, NBA player Qyntel Woods and former NFL running back LeShon Johnson both pled guilty to related crimes, and their cases may just be the tip of the iceberg (the Humane Society estimates there are 40,000 dog fighters in our country). One wonders, then, why such modern-day gladiators are attracted to this cruel activity. But history provides us with a clue. Writing for the Animal Legal & Historical Center, Hanna Gibson reminds us that in ancient Rome, dogs were routinely taken to the Coliseum and pitted against other animals, including bulls and bears. This so-called sport grew in popularity, but in 1835, the British Parliament made dog fighting illegal. Thirty years later most American states had followed suit, and by 1976 the blood sport was outlawed nationwide. Today, dog fighting is a felony in 47 states. If convicted, Michael Vick could serve six years in prison and pay a $350,000 fine. The fine is peanuts to the wealthy Vick, but jail time of any length would finish him in the NFL, especially now that pro sports are starting to crack down on athletes who behave badly, whether on the field or at home. Thank goodness NBA and NFL commissioners are putting their collective foot down when it comes to such things as spousal abuse and bar-room brawls. It’s called a “personal conduct policy,” and athletes who act up could lose their livelihoods. I do wish NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell had suspended Vick pending an outcome in the courts, but Vick is a high-profile player and he is innocent until proven guilty. Still, the dogs were found on his property and that is against the law. But no matter Vick’s level of involvement, the incident serves as a wake-up call for us to stop turning a blind eye to animal abuse of all kinds. It also points out the diversity among today’s breed of dog fighters. Once thought to be the purview of white-trash Southerners, the gruesome sport now attracts sleazebags of all colors and from every social stratum. And those who fight dogs claim that police, judges and critics are trying to deny them a cultural rite of passage which is no different from hunting or fishing. It’s a weak argument even if fighting weren’t illegal; that’s because the unfortunate fighting dogs suffer untold tortures and abuses both before, during and following the event. Typically dogs are kept chained in muddy paddocks and are deliberately underfed. Then, as Tom Weir points out in his recent story for USA Today, owners will sometimes file the dog’s teeth to sharp points and insert ground glass into their fur just before each competition. And if the dog loses the fight, he really loses. Not only is he bloodied and maimed by his canine opponent, but frequently he is then mutilated or killed by his angry sore loser of an owner. Some larger cities like Chicago, Boston and Los Angeles have already taken steps to more actively combat dog fighting, including forming better alliances between police and animal services. But every locality needs to keep a closer eye on this growing underground phenomena. We also need to hope that judges will mete out maximum prison terms since hefty fines mean nothing to millionaire athletes and wealthy drug dealers. For my money, I think the only way to stop dog fighting is to revisit Roman times, and put the guilty party in a ring with a wild bear who hasn’t eaten for a week. It might sound brutal, but I guarantee that should my gladiator punishment be implemented, the incidence of dog fighting in this country would drop to zero. That’s because dog fighters are not only criminals, they are cowards, and none of them would want to risk being torn apart, tortured or abused. By the way, I would root for the bear. Jim Longworth is host of “Triad Today,” which can be seen Friday mornings at 6 a.m. on ABC 45 (cable channel 7) and Sunday nights at 10 p.m. on MY 48 (cable channel 15).