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September 04, 2007

Three Unspoken Words

Thirty-seven words are scrawled on the sheet of paper. The handwriting is small. The ideas expressed, though, were designed for a large audience.

I’m speaking here of a sheet of paper that appears to be Michael Vick’s very own list of talking points for his August 27 apology and his first public statement after his guilty plea for crimes related to dogfighting.

He carried this little slip of paper to the podium at the Omni Hotel in Richmond with talking points scrawled on them and occasionally glanced at them during his four-minute statement.

vick_talking_points
Talking points discarded after Vick's apology
on August 27 (click for full-size version).

Three words jump out at me: Dogs have suffered.

Yes, of course they did. The suffering of dogs was the whole sorry, gory reason for Vick’s downfall. Dogs suffered. Suffered for years. Suffered in the most horrible of ways. Suffered for no good reason—just to amuse Vick and the other co-conspirators.

Thankfully Bad Newz Kennels and the dogfighting ring it spawned are no more.

Thankfully, Vick has confessed his crime and acknowledged his reprehensible performance as a role model for young Americans.

Which brings me back to this piece of paper—Vick's talking points discarded on the podium after he concluded his statement and walked out of the room. 

With dozens of reporters jammed into the press room at the Omni Hotel in Richmond, it was The HSUS’s own Chad Sisneros, head of our Video Services section, who in looking to retrieve his microphone saw the abandoned scrap of paper and picked it up. 

He could hardly believe the irony, once he saw what it was. Nor could I.

Now we are in possession of this little piece of memorabilia in perhaps the nation's most notorious celebrity cruelty case. 

The paper had a series of bullet points, numbered, from #1 to #6. Apologize, Forgiveness, Full Responsibility, Mistakes, Young kids, judgment.

I don’t know if these words were written by Vick himself, or one of his lawyers or PR advisers. I do know that they were written in the first person, and they spell out his case to the public—the best he could muster after lying about his involvement in the dogfighting operation, then being exposed for what was his long and barbaric past of abusing dogs, and then finally fessing up after his co-defendants flipped and lawmen were about to put him away for a long time.

There at the bottom—a little out of sequence with the rest of the bullet points—were the final three words. You can see that they were added as an afterthought. Dogs have suffered.

Watching video of the event, I recall Vick reading through his talking points. I don’t recall him getting to those words at the end. No, for some reason, he didn’t get to the dogs on whom he inflicted such tortures.

There was no number on this last talking point. Had there been, it would have been #7—his number as quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons.

On the day Michael Vick pleaded guilty, I wrote in this space that I felt real sympathy as I watched him speak. No one can feel good about seeing another person take such a fall. It is a tragic story.

At the same time, I wish so much that Vick had stuck with this script and gotten all the way to the bottom. As it was, a man who made a living by methodically marching down the field, one play at a time, didn’t get far enough down the page to express contrition on the central question raised by his conduct. He quick kicked, and got out of that hotel room—revealing that he still may not get what was so wrong with his behavior. The biggest apology of all was left unspoken—to the dogs who suffered and who died so horribly at his hand. 

So I’ve been thinking what to do with this sheet of paper from the Vick press appearance. I thought first about keeping it as a bit of historical ephemera, perhaps even framing it as a symbol of what happens when an individual goes down the dead-end avenue of dogfighting. But then I said to myself that we can do better than that.

I heard about a woman putting all of her Vick football cards, chewed by her two dogs, on eBay. The collection of 22 cards sold for $7,400, and benefited local Missouri humane societies. 

If this paper has Vick’s scrawls and his fingerprints—and no dog saliva at all—I thought it might just go for even more. And maybe we can use the proceeds at The HSUS to bust the next dogfighting ring.

So there you have it. It's now on eBay for auction.* Whatever money we raise, we’ll devote to rooting out the next Bad Newz Kennels.

I can think of no better use.

*Editor's Note: The eBay auction URL was updated at 5 p.m. on Sept. 4.

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