ATLANTA -- Wearing No. 7 jerseys and T-shirts that
proclaimed "Free Michael Vick," supporters of the disgraced
Atlanta Falcons quarterback turned out for a town meeting that was
supposed to expose the divided feelings over his dogfighting case.
The ESPN-sponsored event came on the same day that Vick was
indicted in Virginia on state charges that could land him more time
in prison. He already pleaded guilty in a federal case related to a
gruesome dogfighting operation found on property he owned in his
Several hundred people turned out for the panel discussion.
Also, ESPN handlers were still trying to rustle up audience
members after the 90-minute event went on the air. Dozens of them
wandered in during commercial breaks, apparently lured more by the
prospect of getting some face time on the live broadcast rather
than their feelings about the Vick case.
The panelists included nationally syndicated radio host Neal
Boortz, newspaper columnists Terence Moore of the Atlanta
Journal-Constitution and Selena Roberts of the New York Times, and
former Falcons players Terrence Mathis and Chuck Smith. John
Goodwin, who handles dogfighting cases for the Humane Society of
the United States, and R.L. White, president of the Atlanta chapter
of the NAACP, spoke from the audience.
It was clearly a pro-Vick crowd. White was cheered when he
accused the media of devoting too much coverage to the case.
"At some point, enough is enough," White said. "This is
overkill. He's been subjected to every kind of negative press there
Goodwin, on the other hand, was heckled when he defended his
group and other animal-rights organizations for taking such a keen
interest in the case. He reminded everyone that Vick and his
associates admitted to electrocuting, drowning and hanging dogs
that lost fights or didn't show enough aggressiveness.
"Talk about overkill," Goodwin said, his voice drowned out by
Vick's raucous supporters. "It's overkill to drown an animal
because he didn't show enough ability in the fighting pit. We've
got to remember the real victims are buried under about 6 feet of
dirt in Surry County, Virginia."
Gerald Rose, whose Atlanta-based New Order National Human Rights
Organization has held rallies in support of Vick, said the media
has a double standard for white and black athletes who run afoul of
"It seems like when African-American athletes and white
athletes get in trouble, they're always biased against the
African-American athlete," Rose said.
Moore agreed, though he was quick to point out that those
disparities don't really apply in the Vick case.
"He confessed," said Moore, who is black. "It's not like
there's a grassy knoll or a second gunman. There was one gunman in
this case. It was Michael Vick."