Thousands of words have been written in the last 24 hours about Michael Vick's reinstatement - the vast majority of them focused on his performance on the football field.
But what about the dogs, specifically the pit bulls of Philadelphia? What about those who are brutally used in dog fighting rings and die at the hands of their abusers or are seized or picked up as strays later and end up being put down in shelters by the thousands each year?
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was quoted yesterday saying that he believed he saw "true remorse from Vick over his role in the deaths of several dogs."
[Several dogs? Animal welfare groups say they are hard-pressed to believe Vick - who admitted to torturing and killing dogs for six years - was responsible for the deaths of only several dogs and point out that torture too is crime.]
Goodell went on to say that during one meeting with Vick and his representatives, one tried to make an excuse for why Vick didn't stop the dogfighting. Goodell, according to my Inquirer colleague Ashley Fox, said Vick interrupted his representative and took responsibility for his actions, said they were abhorrent and said he made a mistake.
"He took responsibility," Goodell said, "and I think when you're willing to take responsibility, admit a mistake and be accountable for it, that's a significant step in anyone's moving down the correct path."
[Main Line Animal Rescue's Bill Smith bristles at the word "mistake" to describe the actions of someone who "systematically tortured dogs for six years."]
My Inquirer colleagues Bob Brookover and Jeff McLane reported today that Eagles team president Joe Banner called Vick a "model citizen" and was asked when Vick would start making the rounds in the community as promised when he was signed three weeks ago.
"I think you'll see Michael at an event very soon," Banner said. "We'll be announcing something after we wrap up some details. As far as the organizational support for the issues around animal rights . . . we're working aggressively to have some concrete ideas. I think it will probably take a few more weeks, if not a little longer, to get them to the point where they're operational and we can announce them."
The Eagles have met twice with animal welfare groups since Vick's signing. Team officials summoned back a smaller, "core" group for meeting number two earlier this week, prompting questions about the sincerity of the Eagles efforts to be inclusive and angering some rescues that save and rehab Philadelphia pit bulls and were cut out of the talks.
"We don't want anything from the Eagles," said Smith, who was not included in the second meeting and adds he's still fielding calls from people angry over the team's decision. "I think they are manipulating small groups for their own purposes to repair their image."
It is unclear where the Pennsylvania SPCA - state's largest animal welfare group - stands on the Eagles or Vick and whether it will participate in any program put forth by the Eagles. PSPCA CEO Sue Cosby said because nothing has been decided it would be "premature to comment on the impact of any Eagles effort."
At the center of the storm is the Humane Society of the United States which decided to enlist Vick in its inner city anti-dog fighting campaign after other humane organizations had turned him down. So far Vick has made two appearances with HSUS that president Wayne Pacelle believes have been effective. (see below video piece produced by HSUS after Vick's Chicago appearance)
In a column following the Eagles first meeting with area advocates, Pacelle wrote that he was "heartened" to hear the team say it was going to invest in anti-cruelty and anti-fighting programs on the Philadelphia region.
We are anxious to help them shape and implement these programs. My conclusion: By enlisting the Eagles organization our movement has added a new, powerful member to the cause—and the team’s help is desperately needed in the Philadelphia metropolitan area. Some three-quarters of the region’s 8 million people are self-identified fans of the team, and the Eagles organization is already a powerful force for good in Philadelphia and surrounding communities.
We should be angry whenever animals are abused. But, at some point in the process, we’ve got to turn anger into constructive action. Just being angry about Michael Vick—now more than two years after his horrible crimes came to light—isn’t going to help one dog. But finding new allies like the Eagles, dedicating ourselves to the campaign to eradicate animal fighting, and fortifying these programs is the constructive pathway forward. It’s when passion and strategy are combined that we’ll see the greatest advances for animals.
But some critics say that position has helped provide cover to Vick, his handlers and Eagles officials who brush off criticism about the sincerity of his actions by noting that the Humane Society is working with him and believes him to be truly remorseful.