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May 15, 2007

NFL Star at Center of Dogfighting Investigation

He denies any wrongdoing, but the information that has come to light looks awfully incriminating.

Michael Vick, one of the most gifted talents in the National Football League and a quarterback with the Atlanta Falcons, is suspected of running a dogfighting operation out of his former Virginia home, which he has now sold.

Law enforcement raided his place on April 26 on the suspicion of drug activity, following the April 20 arrest of Vick’s cousin, who lived in the house. When they searched the Surry county property, however, they found an unusual stash—66 dogs, most of them pit bulls, many scarred or emaciated. They also found a blood-stained carpet, break sticks and medications—all indicators of a major-league dogfighting operation (read more here, here and here).

Vick denies involvement, claiming he rarely used the house and that his relatives took advantage of his generosity. But a local store owner reports that Vick often came in to buy syringes, tools of the dogfighting world used to inject the animals with steroids and medications in pre- and post-fight treatments. And according to Fox Sports Radio's Chris Landry, former Falcons teammate Ray Buchanan told him that Vick was deep into the world of dogfighting, though Buchanan now has retracted his statements.

Vick was well known to The HSUS as a suspected dogfighter. A website for his kennel, “Vick’s K-9 Kennels," advertises pit bulls and several other breeds of dogs.   

I wrote to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and told him that this situation requires his full attention (see my letter). Dogfighting is a serious crime—a felony in Virginia and a federal felony, too. Engaging in dogfighting is not like getting a speeding ticket. There is no form of animal cruelty with harsher penalties under the law.

Dogfighting is a sickening and barbaric activity, and state and federal law reflect the public’s utter disgust for the practice. If the investigation confirms Vick’s involvement, he should be dealt with sternly, no matter how talented a player he is. Stern action sends a signal to every NFL player, and every fan, that dogfighting is an entirely unacceptable business and no one who values his job or his freedom should have any involvement with the activity.

I also invited Goodell to work with The HSUS in a public awareness campaign and an outreach campaign to NFL players about animal fighting and other forms of animal cruelty. Another Atlanta Falcons player, defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux, was charged some weeks ago with cruelty to animals for allegedly killing his girlfriend’s pit bull. And in past years several other professional football players have been linked to dogfighting. The Vick case may be just an indicator of a larger subculture of animal cruelty and fighting in professional sports.

The fact that every state, and the federal government, have laws against dogfighting indicates a zero tolerance policy for the practice. The NFL should have a zero tolerance policy, too. The HSUS will be watching developments in this case.

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