Vick’s Linc debut ends up being about football

Michael Vick's introduction to Lincoln Financial Field tonight - a highly anticipated event pumped up by sports-talk radio, black leaders and animal-rights activists - was, in the end, more about the game than anything else.

Before the game started, local NAACP head J. Whyatt Mondesire and a dozen or fewer supporters stood in front of the Linc and took questions from reporters. Mondesire earlier had announced that he and the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and other activists would hold a march outside the stadium to show their support for Vick, who they believe has been maligned by animal-rights activists spewing racist rhetoric.

"Nobody's heard him called the N-word," Mondesire told reporters. "But there was a lot of venom in those words."

And that, pretty much, was the protest: no signs or visible demonstrations and a few words to reporters.

Earlier, at Broad and Pattison, a small group of dog lovers held up signs protesting Vick, braving the honks and shouts of fans who supported the Eagles' new quarterback. One of their signs read: "My dog hates the Philadelphia Eagles."

Kathleen Liberi, a lifelong South Philadelphia resident and Eagles fan, was one of the protesters.

"I am heartbroken that my team and my city are the ones to sign Michael Vick," she said. "I'm not saying he doesn't deserve a second chance. It's just too soon. I think it's sending the wrong message to kids: Two weeks after confinement he's out on the football field?"

Romy Nocerra, 46, of Center City, said, "Frankly, it's disgusting that this can be glossed over."

She held a sign that read: "Ethics Over Athletics."

Inside the Linc, what mattered was football, and a number of Eagles fans were ready to embrace Vick, who spent 18 months in prison for bankrolling a dog-fighting operation.

There were scattered boos when Vick ran onto the field for his first play, but the cheers were louder.

After that, each time Vick took the field, the fans stood to cheer and applaud.

They screamed even louder after he completed a pass, to Hank Baskett.

"He's part of our team now, and he demands our support," said Bobo Beck, 32, who teaches special education in North Philadelphia.

T'ana Johnson, 24, who wore a Vick jersey, stood and screamed.

"I was kind of nervous to wear my Vick jersey," she said. "I thought somebody might run up at me with red paint."

Like many who wore Vick jerseys yesterday, Johnson said the player deserves a second chance.

"He's already served his time," she said.

Tyhee Marshall, 28, of Camden, attended his first Eagles game specifically to support Vick. He held up a handmade cardboard sign that showed a dog with sad eyes in Vick's No. 7 jersey. The sign read: "We forgive you."

"I feel pretty bad about the dogs. They don't deserve it," he said. "I hope he learned his lesson."

But not everyone in the stands was behind Vick.

Peter Wallace, 44, who lives outside Harrisburg, wore a shirt that showed a dog urinating on Vick's jersey.

"He shouldn't have been up here in Philadelphia at all," he said. "He should still be behind bars."

At the Pennsylvania SPCA shelter on East Erie Avenue in North Philadelphia, however, the mood was quite different. There, Best Friends Animal Society, which rescued 22 of Vick's pit bulls, held an awareness event presented as a "rally for second-chance dogs." The event was set up like a included eats and treats, and dogs on parade.

Ed Fritz, of the animal society, which runs a sprawling animal sanctuary in Utah, said he wanted the publicity to move away from "people calling each other names . . . we really want to see the people focus on the dogs."

Fritz dismissed accusations that animal-welfare advocates were racist for continuing to protest against Vick. When it was noted that there were no African-Americans among the two dozen or so attendees at the shelter, Fritz acknowledged: "I'd like to see animal welfare become more diversified."

However, Sue Cosby, the PSPCA's CEO, pointed out that her staff was diversified.

"I don't think whether or not you care about animals is particularly dependent on the color of your skin," Cosby said.

"Dog fighting has nothing to do with race," said Tara Loller, one of the agency's humane officers. While dog fighting may be more prevalent among minorities in large cities such as Philadelphia, it is also prevalent among whites elsewhere in the country, Loller said.

She said there needs to be more education among children that the blood sport is cruel. Among the dog-fighting practitioners she has encountered, she said, "growing up, this is what they see" and no one tells them it is wrong. "So that's why education is really important," she said.

 


Contact staff writer Joelle Farrell at 610-627-0352 or jfarrell@phillynews.com.

Staff writer Robert Moran contributed to this report.