It was April of 2007, Mike Vick was perhaps the most polarizing athlete in the nation. The high profile, highest paid Quarterback in the NFL. He had endorsement deals, sponsorships, mansions, cars, and millions upon millions of dollars. The story is now almost a part of American History. The details that came out about his dogfighting connection, his involvement in the brutal slaying of Pit Bulls that were not fight quality. The lies, the question of sincerity and the debates of the right and wrongs of it all. There was rich versus poor, black versus white, and Pit Bull versus the media.
Before Michael Vick, the American Pit Bull Terrier was considered by most a menace, a scourge of society, only owned by criminals and miscreants. The breed and mixture of the breed was largely thought to be inherently evil and dangerous. They were considered the drug dealers body guard and baby killers. Weekly reports would surface of a crazed Pit Bull that had attacked a person or another animal. Counties and cities implemented bans and regulations for the breed and it’s mixes. Bans and regulations that sometimes hemmed up other breeds all together. These bans led to thousands upon thousands of dogs being euthanized for doing nothing more than being, or appearing to be a Pit Bull of sorts. In a twisted way, Mike Vick and and his horrible deeds changed that.
In Vick the media found its villain. The media found a reason for this inherently evil breed of dog. The reason for its evilness was man, a particular man at that. For the first time the Pit Bull became the victim on a national level. The case was already a nationally covered one, but the case made the dogs themselves miniature celebrities. Books were written, television shows were created and hundreds of breed specific rescues sprung up around the country. The groups and individuals that saved these dogs became heroes and in some cases angels. Rescuing Pit Bulls became the in fashion thing to do. Celebrities began adopting and showcasing their Pit Bulls. From athletes like Tom Brady to Rachel Ray promoting a Pit Bull on her brand of dog food. The breed that was once Americas dogs was in a way having a rebirth and revamping its image. The image was different now it was of an animal that was often mistreated, abused and neglected. It’s previous bad rap was attributed to the low life’s who abused and mistreated them as opposed to some innate need to be vicious that was just before thought to be born into the breed. It was a welcome change!
Why did the Vick case change the image? There had been other dogfighting cases that had made the news. Other more celebrated dog fighters had done hard time. Why was this case so different? The truth to many fell along racial and economic lines. The Pit Bull was a media monster, but in a lot of respects the young African American Male was a bigger monster. Black men were often portrayed on the news as violent criminals, the stereotypes that followed the Pit Bull paled in comparison to the stereotypes that followed the African American male. Head up… And the Pit Bull escaped as the victim and Mike Vick as the instigator and aggressor that abused the animal. There is no defense for what Vick did, the acts were atrocious and disturbing to the majority of America. The defense that the reason for his behavior was due to his upbringing and some deep seeded African American culture added to the dogs as victims and the individuals as almost too dumb to know better. The truth is, many African Americans were not brought up around the act of dogfighting or animal abuse. The defense definitely hurt the image of who fought dogs and in a way the saving of the breed changed the way that almost every young African American Pit Bull Terrier owner was viewed.
The aftermath of the Vick release and case proved beneficial through television as well. Before the case there were zero television shows showcasing Pit Bulls and their plight. After the Vick case Animal Planet released a documentary on Mike Vick and two other shows that showcased the rescuing of the breed. Pit boss featuring Shorty Rossi and his crew and the award winning series Pit Bulls and Parolees featuring Tia Torres and family. This show not only showed rescues, but also the interaction of former felons , now parolees, interacting with the breed and the transformation of not only the dogs, but of the parolees as they change their life paths. Shows like this truly show the breed as not only victims, but champions in life! Their rescuers as true angels and their missions as acts of compassion and caring. These programs were a first for the breed and direct results of the Vick case and the new view had for the breed.
It’s been eight years, Vick has seen three new NFL teams. He has not completely been forgiven, but some of the outright hatred has subsided. He has done a good deal of public education and discussion about animals and has also donated monies to the cause. Is he truly sorry, this a debate that will rage on forever, but in the end this heinous act has changed the Pit Bulls image for now. It is up to the owners to make the most of this second chance as Vick has and protect the breed now and in the future! The choice is ours!
Article By: Christopher Bennett (Bully The Kid)