A couple years back, The HSUS criticized Nike for running a television ad called "The Battle"—an MTV-like ad featuring a one-on-one game of basketball interspersed with quick takes of a pit bull and a Rottweiler snarling at each other and poised for fighting. It was a barely subliminal glorification of dogfighting and a romanticizing of that aspect of urban culture. A Nike representative denied that the ad encouraged dogfighting, but explained, "People have to understand the youth culture we cater to. Our market is the urban, edgy, hip-hop culture."
© The HSUS
An abandoned fighting dog recovered by
The HSUS in Oakland, Calif. in 2006.
That’s precisely the subculture where dogfighting has metastasized. "The Battle" was just one small contributing factor toward the promotion of dogfighting. It’s gotten even more fuel from rap music and rap stars, such as Jay-Z and DMX.
Comes then Michael Vick. It’s not clear whether he is a cause or a creation of the dogfighting subculture. But he is the most prominent star in recent memory to have been entangled in a dogfighting controversy.
But The HSUS does not reserve its criticisms only to actual criminal circumstances. We are engaged in some pretty complex sociological work and part of our goal is to establish laws to protect animals and to enforce them, but also to suss out how popular culture contributes to animal abuse and to offer course corrections. It’s no science, for sure, but we get some pretty good hunches from time to time. Nike promoting Michael Vick and lionizing him sure doesn’t sound good to us.
There is no doubt there was some bad stuff going down on Vick’s property, whether or not charges are filed against Vick or anybody else with a hand in the game. There were lots of dogs on the property, and many were emaciated or scarred. There were also many of the accoutrements and tell-tale signs of dogfighting, including the presence of a bloody carpet, break sticks (used to separate fighting pit bulls), and even a rape rack (used to harness a female pit bull so that males can mount her for breeding).
Nike wasn’t guilty of any crime when it ran "The Battle." Just bad judgment. In pursuit of its appeal to "urban, edgy, hip-hop culture," it leaves The HSUS, local law enforcement and local humane societies to pick up the pieces. The cost of dogfighting to our communities is enormous—not to speak of the cost for the dogs themselves and other animal and human victims of the dogfighting subculture.
It’s bad judgment to keep Michael Vick on the payroll, too. Nike may like its association with renegades and outlaws. But it certainly doesn’t help our communities or the animals.