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NFL Memo: Ban Vick the equivalency

Gary Caruso | Friday, August 31, 2007

One would imagine that whoever coined the state’s tourism slogan, “Virginia is for Lovers,” might have lived in the rolling hills of Surry County at a quaint-sounding address like 1915 Moonlight Road. Tragically, for six years Moonlight Road housed the Bad Newz Kennels where characters called “Ookie,” “T,” “Q,” “P-Funk” and “Funk” established, promoted and bankrolled a vicious illegal interstate dog fighting and gambling enterprise. Their primary concern had nothing to do with love. It was to kill the weak.

Former Atlanta Falcons quarterback, Michael Vick, a.k.a. “Ookie,” not only financed the venture, but served his social needs by showing off before gamblers who used death as a means of wagering. Witnesses recall Vick personally paying tens of thousands of dollars on lost bets. When Vick entered his guilty plea this week to only a single conspiracy count, he admitted in court documents that he was deeply involved in the venture and endorsed the hanging or drowning of poorly performing dogs. His associates admitted to shooting and electrocuting pit bulls.

Remarkably, the man whose minimum salary was $130 million chose friends in need of financial backing for an ongoing gambling business that tortured and brutally killed animals. Vick not only managed and promoted an operation for hosting dog fights, but also purchased the main staging area that housed, bred and trained dogs. He approved rape stands that tied down aggressive females in heat, and automobile axils implanted into the ground so that a dog could run in a circle without hindering its chain. Vick was the primary source of funding for property improvements, dog food, medicine, travel expenses and purse fees.

Vick may also face state charges based on an 18-page federal grand jury indictment that outlines many of the sordid, heinous acts that his associates and other witnesses revealed in vivid detail. While Vick’s attorneys deliberated to carefully word his plea in such a way that would prevent state prosecutors from preferring charges, federal witnesses and others yet to be called may compound Vick’s legal problems.

Vick’s enterprise began flourishing in 2001. As the number of events increased, so did the size of the purses. In 2002, Vick hosted a “Grand Champion Fight” pitting dogs that each won five consecutive fights and sponsored from Maryland and the “Junior Mafia” of North Carolina. Quickly $300 bets grew to $13,000 per sponsor by March 2003. After Vick’s dog lost, he personally took a book bag with nearly $23,000 in cash from his car to pay the winning sponsor. His associate then conferred with Vick about destroying the losing dog before ultimately electrocuting it.

Nothing mentions Vick’s involvement in side betting, a typical practice among spectators at such contests. However, too many witnesses saw Vick attend numerous fights. In fact, the indictment cites a late 2003 fight at Bad Newz Kennels where federal cooperating witness No. 3 sponsored a dog. The witness was criticized by one of Vick’s many regulars after the witness yelled out Vick’s name in front of the crowd during the fight.

One of Vick’s Virginia neighbors also owns a condominium in my neighborhood. As an entertainment promoter, he knows celebrities, politicians, athletes and journalists through gossip and alliances that barely reach the third degree of separation. The promoter sought out superstar Vick to become a regular with Vick’s crew, attending training and fighting competitions in their neighborhood. His firsthand, eyewitness account of how Vick sanctioned the “rolling,” or testing of dogs for fights, is gruesome.

Kennel associates smeared raw ground beef on meek dogs before throwing them into the “box,” or blood-splattered walled fighting ring, to watch them be eaten alive. Kittens and puppies whose demeanor was less than vicious, outweighed and outnumbered, were often chased as a training exercise before eaten alive. Dogs that held promise as an aggressive fighter, however, were kept for further training.

America’s dog fighting subculture is as useless and reprehensible as the Ku Klux Klan. Vick just may be the poster boy who helps end this barbaric and inhumane competition. Fifty dogs were seized from Vick’s property. Nationally, nearly three million pit bulls each year are rescued but euthanized for being unfit to adopt. Nobody knows how many are killed by their handlers for poor performance.

As for Vick, his fate will be determined through three phases – federal court, state court and the National Football League. Vick knowingly sponsored and sanctioned a death sport, sometimes driving from his home in Atlanta during football season. For example, in the fall of 2003, Vick and associates drove to South Carolina to wager $3,000 on their dog, “Magic.”

The NFL must judge Vick’s callous disregard for life and his rampant gambling in light of its corporate standards and ethics. The league should simply reclaim the time Vick wasted on the gambling, mutilating and killing of dogs while an NFL player – ban Vick for six years. After all, nobody can breathe life back into those dogs.

Gary Caruso, Notre Dame ’73, is a communications consultant who owned a rescued pit bull while serving as a legislative and public affairs director in President Clinton’s administration. His column appears every other Friday. He can be contacted at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.