Humane Society of the United States members and other concerned citizens have reacted with extraordinary passion and determination in response to the indictment against Michael Vick and three co-defendants. As of yesterday, more than 263,000 individuals contacted the NFL through The HSUS’s online advocacy campaign at humanesociety.org. That figure is simply remarkable—and I am grateful to each one of you who contributed to this avalanche of communications to the NFL. It is this sort of collective action that reveals the power of our cause and the force of The HSUS.
Last night, in response to the outpouring of public concern, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told Michael Vick that he is not allowed at the Atlanta Falcons’ training camp, pending the outcome of an internal NFL investigation of the dogfighting charges against him. Goodell is right to take this action, and I commend him for it. There’s just no way it can be business as usual for Vick and the Falcons given the seriousness of the charges set out in the felony indictment filed in U.S. District Court last week.
But this must be a first step. Goodell must not let Vick suit up until the federal charges against him are settled.
For me and The HSUS, this is not a matter of retribution. Vick will appear before a court of law, and that court will render a judgment on his guilt or innocence. That’s where he may be punished by the federal government if he’s convicted. But now, in the pre-trial period of this drama, we are adamant that Vick not be allowed to suit up because we fear the impact of such an action on young people and the message it sends to them.
Vick and his co-defendants are charged with taking part not only in dogfighting, but killing dogs by the most gruesome means, including electrocution and bludgeoning. We cannot let children think that such behavior is in any way normative. The NFL needs to proceed under the precautionary principle and send a suitable message to America’s kids, who are a core part of the fan base of the NFL and the admirers and followers of its star players. Nike should also take note and follow suit.
The HSUS sees the scourge of dogfighting in our communities every day. It’s an epidemic of violence and it dulls the sensitivities of everyone involved. Too many young people, perhaps influenced by peers, certain rap artists and other celebrities, are enticed by the idea of having a tough-looking pit bull and maybe even fighting the animal. Shelters throughout the nation are jam-packed with relinquished, seized or stray pit bulls, often physically and emotionally scarred. Many are poorly socialized and molded into aggressive animals by their keepers. As a result, hundreds of thousands of pit bulls are euthanized every year.