Untangling Michael Vick from the Dogs

I give you one of my tennis rackets. You go to the tennis courts to play against another player. You’re playing horribly. At one point during your match with the other player you totally freak out, smash my racket. In the process you destroy a chair and a bench, and then you take the tennis racket and attempt to throw it over the fence. Unfortunately for you the racket slips out of your hand and it hits the other player, breaking his nose.

A reporter sees you and gets on her celly and calls the police. The police arrive about the same time the ambulance does. The other player is taken to the hospital, but first tells the police that, yes you went nuts, but didn’t mean to hit him in the nose. The reporter, though, says you not only went crazy on the property but purposely hit your playing partner. In the process of questioning you, you tell the police I gave you the racket: they take down my address. The reporter overhears all of this.

About 30 minutes later I’m leaving my house to do some grocery shopping. I’m met outside on the sidewalk by three police cars and five policemen. They want to question me about you. Why? Something about you and a tennis racket and a guy with a broken nose.

Three days later on the 6 o’clock local news the reporter is breathlessly reporting the tennis court incident and demanding that the police investigate and arrest me.


She says that while investigating a local story about a man – you – she saw go crazy on a tennis court she found that the tennis racket belonged to me. She also found that I took the racket to a shop and had it restrung three times.

She breathlessly tells the television audience that it was actually the strings that caused your playing partner to have a broken nose and that I am ultimately responsible for the damage on the tennis court caused by you because the tennis racket was originally mine.

That is the story of Mary Kay Mallonee of Norfolk’s WAVY TV. But more importantly, this is the Michael Vick dog fighting story in a nutshell.

* * *

Dog fighting has its roots in ancient Rome in the days of the Roman Coliseum. Centuries later the activity was alleged to have reappeared in medieval Europe, particularly England. Dog fighting was not confined to Europe. The activity is documented in Japan during the Kamakura Period (1185-1333).

Today dog fighting still occurs in some parts of England and in pockets throughout Europe. However, dog fighting is especially popular in Latin America. This reporter has seen dog fighting pits alongside cock-fighting pits in Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala, and been invited to cock and dog fights in both Belize and Guatemala.

In the every state in the United States dog fighting is a crime, but the punishments vary. It is a felony in all but two states, Idaho and Wyoming. Yet dog fighting does occur and is popular in rural areas and in all Southern states.

* * *

On the WAVY website, a drug investigation involving Vick’s cousin Davon Boddie led authorities to a house in Smithfield, Va. purchased by Vick:

According to the search warrant for Michael Vick’s property, detectives seized guns, illegal ammunition clips, suspected marijuana and paperwork on dog fighting.

Included on the list was a semi-automatic gold-metal 45-caliber pistol along with other guns. Investigators said this has turned into a much bigger case than they ever expected, and will take some time to complete.

The investigation apparently had origins in an April 20 arrest of Boddie where he gave the address to police in Hampton, Virginia. Boddie was arrested for possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute. Police then procured a search warrant and on Wednesday, April 25 searched the home for signs of drugs and or drug paraphernalia.

That the police found it necessary to immediately seek a search warrant for the address and its home is a questionable act. Young black man lives in an exclusive rural setting in a 4,700 square foot home? With cursory research the police surely found that the owner of the home was Michael Vick (Vick recently sold the manse for what was called a “cut-rate” price). What was just another black man perhaps selling a little weed became a potential cause celebre calling for swift action.

In a May 4 interview given by Mallonee to the Mayhem in the AM crew at WQXI Radio 790 The Zone out of Atlanta, Georgia, during the search of the home an investigator is purported to have heard dogs barking on the property. Mallonee told 790 interviewers that the investigators asked someone at the house what the barking was about. The person willingly took the investigator to a set of kennels where more than 70 dogs were housed, many of which appeared as though they suffered injuries from fighting. From the WAVY website report:

Chopper 10 captured exclusive video of animal control officers removing the last of more than 70 dogs from Michael Vick’s property on Friday.

Animal control officers said they also rescued at least ten beagles and said these dogs are commonly used almost as bait to train the larger pitbulls to attack.

Thursday, officers seized truck loads of equipment used for training fighting dogs. They found treadmills, whips, chains, injectable drugs and breeding equipment. Investigators said this is part of one of the biggest and most elaborate dog fighting compounds they have ever seen.

As of Friday night, the 70 plus dogs that were found are all safe. There are animal control officers spread out across several local cities who are taking care of them.

The number of dogs removed from the home is debated. Dave Forster of the Virginian-Pilot reported:

Authorities removed the last of 66 dogs Friday from the home about 10 miles from Smithfield, where Vick’s cousin Davon Boddie lives…. The animals removed include about 54 pit bulls, many of them badly scarred, said [Kathy] Strouse, animal control coordinator for Chesapeake.

It is at this point that the story of a home owned by Michael Vick becomes twisted in to something surreal and otherworldly. It is here where television reporters stray from journalism and venture into thoughts of becoming the sound and fury and face behind the story; where dizzying dreams of that magical progression from the local beat, its low pay and long hours, to the world of prime time major network and major cable recognition becomes a possibility.

If only the “right” spin is applied to – Michael Vick.

And it is here that the Vick saga is time and space and event bent. It is where, for the sports fan, in a 24-hour span Vick giving the finger to a fan spewing a stream of consciousness cursing tirade directed toward the quarterback after a football game in November of last year is equated with the demonic activity of dog fighting. It is in just another television show segment later where a water bottle with a secret compartment that contained – marijuana(?) jewelry(?) nothing(?), that has since disappeared from public view and media mention, the Miami International Airport Transportation and Safety Administration’s offices and the Dade County police’s purview, is now another in a long line of Michael Vick in discretions. It is where, just after the commercial, more “experts” will tell a now-enraptured audience that these events make Vick the Scarface of the dog fighting world; that this “long chain” of three happenstances puts Vick on the level of 10 times investigated, arrested, or otherwise hassled NFL villain du jour Adam “Pacman” Jones: “I mean, with this long line if incidents, when do you start thinking of Michael Vick like Pacman Jones,” said ESPN’s Trey Wingo.

The result of the above is that the Michael Vick-dog fight story reeks on several fronts. It reeks of racism, imperialistic worldviews, cultural insensitivity, and jingoism.


* * *

That racism plays a part in the Vick saga should be of no surprise. That it is so readily manifested publicly is always surprising. Consider this statement from John Goodwin, who handles dog fighting issues for The Humane Society of America, made to ESPN’s Dana Jacobson on the worldwide Leader’s morning show First Take:

“Dog fighting is part of a larger culture in the NFL. It has no place in the NFL or in civilized society.”

Goodwin went so far as to, along with his boss Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, send a letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell detailing some facts and many conjectured allegations concerning various NFL players relative to dog fighting. Goodwin averred that he had compiled the information sent to Goodell several years ago and that Vick is just another in a long line of NFLers involved in dog fighting.

To Jacobson’s credit, she pressed Goodwin on this issue, asking him once why he waited so long to send this letter to the commissioner’s office and asking a second time, why he waited for the Vick incident to send a letter to Goodell. Predictably, Goodwin skirted the questions by attempting to levy an offensive attack and subtle charge of negativism toward Jacobson’s valid queries:

“I am not gonna stand by and let people do what they want when it comes to dogs,” barked Goodwin, as if his “tough on crime” act-statement was a proper substitute for failing to address Jacobson’s questions.

In another interview Goodwin went farther with his accusations of Vick:

“We heard there was a video existing with him sitting next to the pit,” says John Goodwin, deputy manager of animal fighting issues for the Humane Society of the United States. “I don’t know if the video has been destroyed or does exist. I don’t think you need that kind of evidence. There have been dog fighting cases that have led to convictions with less evidence. You got scarred-up dogs, a carpet with blood on it that dogs fought on, veterinarian drugs and syringes used for pre- and post-fight treatment and equipment they used to prepare dogs for fights.

“There’s a store owner, despite Vick’s denial that he is involved, saying (Vick) has been there buying veterinarian drugs. All the pieces are there.”

The untruth that Goodwin “heard” there was a video of Vick was a classic “planted” story seen regularly in politics. In the political arena, though, getting close to the source of that plant is often difficult. Fortunately, in sports matters are much more transparent. In this case the story arose directly from the halls of the Humane Society instead of through a newspaper or television report given anonymously to a journalist. This time we can see that the video lie was planted by either Goodwin or his associate Kathy Strouse, animal control coordinator for Chesapeake, Virginia.

Goodwin had this to add to Steve Wyche, Atlanta-Journal-Constitution NFL writer and beat writer for the Atlanta Falcons:

“We have well-placed sources in the dog fighting underworld,” John Goodwin, deputy manager of animal fighting issues, told the Journal-Constitution. “His involvement has been brought to our attention numerous times. We pay people for information that leads to arrests.”

Goodwin said The Humane Society did not know the location of a dog fighting of Vick’s until Wednesday’s investigation.

And there is an example of the Goodwin’s twisting of facts, stretching of the truth, or outright lies. The Vick operation is purported to have been on the Humane Society’s radar for years and was known to be a well-funded operation. If this is true, it is nearly impossible for Goodwin’s “well-placed sources” who, in the past have investigated NFL players and who know that Virginia – as are all Southern states – is known as a dog fighting hotbed not to have known the exact whereabouts of Vick’s alleged operation.

Goodwin, on the PetAbouse.com website attempted to further justify his inability to know the whereabouts of Vick’s purported dog fighting operation:

“We get a lot of calls, and people were always kind of kicking his name around,” Goodwin said. “But it was always difficult to put together a complete case on the guy. The word is that he has multiple layers of protection. When the search warrant was executed and they found all the things they found, it really came as no surprise.”

While Goodwin could never quite pin down Vick, Don Banks of Sports Illustrated seemed to have no problem finding people to snitch on Vick. Banks penned an accusatory piece on Vick based on “multiple sources who have known Vick well for years.” These “sources” who allegedly know Vick so well apparently don’t know his cousin because they never implied that they’d visited Vick’s cousin’s home where the Atlanta QB is said to spend so much of his off time:

…they say his troubling pattern of recent behavior reflects a penchant for questionable judgment, an unwillingness to distance himself from the wrong crowd, and a long-standing belief that the rules don’t apply to him.

While the sources spoke on the condition that their names not be used due to their relationship with Vick, two of them said they were convinced the quarterback has been involved with the illegal dog-fighting ring that authorities believe they discovered last month while conducting a drug raid on a house Vick owns in Smithfield, Va.

“He knows what’s going on in that house in Virginia,” one source said. “There’s not a doubt in my mind he’s involved with it.” The other source cited Vick’s longtime “affinity” for the dog-fighting subculture, and expressed certainty that Vick was aware of what was happening at the house.

Back to the Humane Society posse, Goodwin’s boss, Pacelle spoke at length with NBC sports’ Tom Curran on the subject of dog fighting. In the article, Pacelle, like Goodwin and Strause is steadfast in prosecuting Vick in the court of public opinion before all the facts of the case come to light:

“Any high-profile case that results in exposure or arrest sends a signal to others that they are playing with fire will help,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States. “There’s no type of animal cruelty that comes with harsher penalties than organized dog fighting. It’s a felony in 48 states and a federal felony.

“Hopefully, an unfortunate case like this with Vick brings attention and gets into the minds of those involved and causes them to say, ‘Hey, I need to think about whether this is something I want to continue being a part of.'”

Not only does Pacelle personally indict Vick, but he attacks the entire world of rap music.:

“Tens of thousands of people are involved in pit bull fighting,” he said. “It’s glorified in rap, it’s celebrated by athletes. The same impulses that caused people in the days of the Roman Empire to go to The Coliseum to see staged fights between lions and bears are in this. There is something that appeals to a segment of people in terms of bloodlust.”

The tag-teaming of Vick by the Humane Society continues with John Corbin, Deputy Manager of the Humane Society’s Animal Cruelty Campaign and an expert on animal fighting issues. In the same NBC Sports article Corbin said the following:

“We understand (Vick) is very involved. From the informants that have called us on the issue of dog fighting, Mike Vick would be the No. 1 athlete involved. It’s going to be hard for him to hide behind saying he was ignorant of the whole thing when at least one store owner says he comes in all the time and buys syringes and veterinary equipment.”

Unfortunately, without media scrutiny to this point Goodwin’s and his bosses’ persistent and shrill cries have finally drawn the interest of Congress:

On Friday, Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., joined two prominent animal rights groups in putting pressure on NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to “act swiftly and forcefully” if Vick was involved in dog fighting. Lantos hinted that the government may get involved if the NFL doesn’t act appropriately.

“I am outraged that one of the National Football League’s superstars is affiliated with such a heinous enterprise,” Lantos wrote in a letter to Goodell. “The level of cruelty involved in exploiting animals to the point that 60 malnourished and injured dogs were removed from Mr. Vick’s property is mind-boggling. I will view anything less than the strongest repudiation of Mr. Vick’s involvement as tacit support for this atrocious activity.”

False statements like these set up the perception that Vick is nothing more than another highly-paid black malcontent athlete who, along with his flaunting of the law and disrespect for others is also a lowly inhumane, uncivilized cur.

Additionally, this is an issue that is tailor-made for Congress. It lands itself automatically to bipartisan support: after all, a dog is a man’s best friend. And the weak threat that “the government may get involved if the NFL doesn’t act appropriately” is just that – weak. At the same time, it is not improbable for the government to take dog cruelty and run with it. The cause of defending animals will not only join Republicans and Democrats, but neoconservatives, liberals, traditional conservatives, and progressives. Both sides can even elicit the aid, be seen with, and join hands with their Hollywood compatriots without it seeming like just another photo opportunity.

For one moment, just when the approval polls for Congress are lower that those of the President, all of government can band together and show the country just how our representatives can show their collective humanitarian side – just when the U.S. begins to gear up for the 2008 elections. The following statement elucidates the contrived stirrings the Human Society is attempting to arouse at the expense of Vick:

The Humane Society of the United States issued the following statement from Wyane Pacelle, president and CEO: “The Humane Society of the United States has heard troubling reports for some time that Michael Vick has been involved in organized dog fighting, and we fear that this investigation may validate that very disturbing allegation.”

While Goodwin acts on the national front whipping up a false frenzy, it is Strouse who performs the Humane Society’s dirty work on the local level. Strouse has viciously attacked Virginia Commonwealth Attorney Gerald Poindexter. According to the website Pet Abuse.com Strouse:

“…has served as a resource for the Virginia Legislature on animal fighting legislation and is a Bloodsports Investigations Instructor for the National Animal Control Association Academy. Recognized as an expert in dog fighting and animal cruelty cases, Strouse’s experience with these cases will be a crucial part of any potential criminal charges that may be sought [against Vick]. “

Strouse has taken it upon herself to use mostly local media sources to pound Poindexter, the black prosecutor from Surry County, Virginia where Boddie resides. Strouse has told several sources that she cannot believe that Poindexter has failed to produce an indictment for Vick. Yet, she too is not averse to carrying the message of ‘Gerald Poindexter is inept,’ to the national press. In a Yahoo.com article written by Jason Cole, Strouse attempted to bury Poindexter:

For her part, Strouse was not backing down and essentially challenged Surry County Commonwealth attorney Gerald Poindexter to charge Vick. Last week, Poindexter made statements indicating he was reluctant to charge anyone with dog fighting.

“He was at the home and saw the equipment that we seized,” Strouse said of Poindexter. “When we were there, he said he had enough right there to issue an indictment. He didn’t say who he would indict, but he said he had enough.

“Now, with what he has said, it makes you think, ‘What in the world is going on in Surry County?’ This certainly doesn’t make me feel warm and fuzzy about the Surry County attorney,” Strouse said.

Amazingly political and racial in nature, Strouse in the above statement, equates Poindexter’s – a black man – reticence to jump into prosecuting a case involving dogs before all the evidence is compiled, to his treatment of the citizens of the county he represents. And it is Strouse who is believed to be behind the words of the media pawn for the Humane Society, Mary Kay Mallonee.

Mallonee’s (pictured at right) genteel Southern accent makes it easy for a listener to tell when she is betraying her emotions and they range from conspiratorial tones when she relates what “investigators” are saying to her off the record, to demeaning laughter when describing the state of the interior of the home occupied by Vick’s cousin and his friends.

Through it all Mallonee’s “evidence” implicating Vick is sorely lacking:

“There’s a store nearby, the clerks there say he [Vick] buys lots of supplies [for the dogs] like syringes.”

I don’t know when buying syringes became evidence of dog fighting. But what is worse about Mallonee’s statement is when asked if the store had security camera tapes of Vick in the store, Mallonee had to admit sheepishly:

“Not that I’ve heard of. Not that I’ve heard of.”

When asked: “And uhhh, Mary Kay, we had heard here in Atlanta, at least, that the Humane Society had a dossier or at least heard questions, questionable things going on about Mike Vick and the Humane Society gets involved Did they provide any information in this investigation,” this was her answer:

“You know, there have been it’s, it’s interesting there have been, ummmm, signs of this for years. There’s people talking about this for years. The Humane Society, neighbors, I mean different pockets of people, ummmm, trying to get investigators on this for years. And so you’ve got a lot of people including the Humane Society, including neighbors, including people who work at stores that have sold all these supplies who are wanting to help investigators ummmm, nail this case down.”

Huh?! The only reports from neighbors were that they’d seen Vick once or twice walking a dog that obviously was not a fighting dog. The clerks at stores have never spoken ill of Vick.

When asked: “So right now it’s on the record that people saying they’ve seen Mike Vick, it is not a few and far between or rare occurrence to have Mike Vick anywhere near or around that house,” Mallonee answered:

(Loudly) Oh No! It doesn’t sound like it at all. From all the different people that we’ve talked to it doesn’t sound like it’s, it’s a rare occurrence at all. But I will tell you, I, I don’t think that it’s just word-of-mouth. I think police have something else more concrete that shows that he is there on a regular basis

Here, Mallonee subtly brought up the specter of a video of Vick in attendance at a dog fight on the property. However, even Kathy Strouse must admit that there is no video of Vick, though she obviously holds out hope that some damning evidence exists:

“Let’s be very accurate here, because some of the reports out there are not accurate,” Strouse said on Tuesday. “We have information from informants that a tape exists of a dogfight and that Michael Vick is present. Whether that tape exists, we do not know that it exists.”

Mary Kay Mallonee is very willing to point the finger at Michael Vick for a dog fighting operation, but much less willing to separate fact from innuendo. The Humane Society is happy to have Emmy-winning talent on their side.

The Humane Society has opted not to pursue cases like those Clinton Portis spoke of, the cases near his birth home in Laurel Mississippi:

“I know a lot of back roads that got a dog fight if you want to go see it. But they’re not bothering those people because those people are not big names. I’m sure there’s some police got some dogs that are fighting them, some judges got dogs and everything else.”

Because of his statement, Portis is the subject of derision throughout the sporting press. That is often the reaction when someone comes out of the blue, breaks through fallacy, and baldly tells the truth.

On a website that was linked to Vick (it has been since removed from the Internet), www.vicksk9kennels.com, listed for sale American pit bull terriers and presa canarios — a breed once used in dog fighting. A picture of a presa canario stud named Pepe was featured prominently on the Web site. The caption accompanying that photo read:

“Look at this ultimate canine that is highly intelligent, powerful, well-framed, and has tenacious courage. He is naturally confident and will go through great lengths to fulfill all of his owner’s commands. No other breed can compare. This dog has dignity, strength, an appealing appearance, and is committed to having extreme performance. You are looking at a well-qualified family pet and protector.”

Also prominently stated on the website were the following words:

“We do not promote, support, or raise dogs for fighting.”

Vick’s former dog breeding website and its message, like the facts behind Portis’ statement, will go largely unreported. That Michael Vick owned a known and apparently responsible dog breeding kennel is not of interest to the media. They want blood and guts – Vick on a skewer. Portis’ statement, on the other hand, hits too close to home. It raises the thought that someone you know may be involved in dog fighting – especially if you live in the South.

Instead the Humane Society and the media seek Michael Vick.

The premise of the Humane Society’s attack on Vick is, the sports media dislikes him enough already, so we can piggy-back on them. As far as our case goes, if we throw enough crap at the wall, hopefully some of it will stick and perhaps we’ll have a case against this well-known athlete. We will be in the limelight, have a better chance at receiving easy Federal funding and a multitude of high-dollar private donations. Better yet that he’s black because many will automatically vilify him.

This problem the nation now has with Michael Vick is borne from his lack of production on the field and his having the temerity (in the eyes of the press and the public) to flip off a fan who lets loose with a stream of consciousness cursing tirade at Vick as he left the field after a game.

The problem with our nation is that we’re far too willing to believe the story that tugs at our heartstrings, no matter how far-fetched, rather than examine cold-hard facts. We want to believe in the pleasant face of Mary Kay Mallonee and a host of administrators from a place known for saving animals, like the Humane Society.

Whether Michael Vick was a willing participant in dog fights, or whether he bankrolled an entire dog fighting operation will come to light. Virginia Commonwealth Attorney Gerald Poindexter is a black man who, during the post-Civil Rights era, came to Surry County, Virginia and guided the first three black members of the county board of supervisors through how to govern a county at the expense of many of the parents of the people attempting to disparage his character now.

Poindexter will get to the bottom of whatever happened at the house owned by Vick. He just won’t allow his emotions to be his guide. And he will not allow the Humane Society or Congress or local news talent or the national sports media to dictate his methodology for his investigation:

“I don’t believe in trying cases in the press,” said Poindexter, who is up for re-election in November, “and I find that despicable, OK?”


D. K. WILSON writes for the dynamic sports site The Starting Five.