Only smattering of anti-Vick sentiment

PHILADELPHIA -- The explosive debate that has consumed the city since the arrival of Michael Vick played out on a much smaller and subdued scale Thursday at the Philadelphia Eagles' stadium and an animal welfare event across town.

The local NAACP's planned march outside Lincoln Financial Field to support Vick, the former Pro Bowl quarterback who was convicted in a dogfighting ring, did not materialize, although about a dozen members set up a table with banners supporting him.

Earlier, three women held a sign saying, "Murderers are not role models," with an image of a dog and a bloody paw.

In the middle was Clarissa Sherrow, a 25-year season ticket holder who arrived decked out in a Dalmatian rescue T-shirt and carrying a sign that said, "The rescue in your state could use help." Sherrow, of Nottingham, said she wanted to make sure Vick -- who has pledged to fight animal cruelty -- lives up to his promises.

"I'm not protesting; I'm a true Eagles fan," Sherrow said. "I hope Michael Vick does what he says, that he's going to give back to the animals."

Several miles away in North Philadelphia, animal welfare advocates held a tailgating party to encourage adoption of pit bulls rescued from local dogfighting rings.

More than a dozen dogs, including two rescued just last weekend, were playing with volunteers during a vegetarian cookout at the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

A light brown pit bull the agency named Paul appeared playful despite his emaciated condition and a face pockmarked with scars. He and a white pit bull named Georgia -- also playing despite healing wounds -- were among several rescued from a dogfighting operation on Sunday.

They were being admired by Mary Donato of South Philadelphia, who came to show her support for the agency, where one of her daughters is a vet technician. She said that Vick's 18-month prison term was not long enough, and that he shouldn't be able to play football anymore. During his legal case, Vick and his accomplices admitted to torturing to death dogs that underperformed in fights.

"What kind of role model is he for the children?" said Donato, who has three dogs and five cats. "They made a very big mistake."

The opposing view could be found outside the stadium, where people sporting Vick jerseys defended the quarterback, saying he had been punished for his crime and deserved a second chance.

Wearing a T-shirt that declared "Forgive Vick/Go Eagles," George Jones said he and some friends drove from their homes in Portsmouth, Va., near where Vick grew up. Jones said he had followed the quarterback since Vick's high school days.

"Soon as we heard he was going here, we got the tickets," Jones said. "He was doing something wrong ... but I believe he paid his debt to society and needs to be forgiven."

J. Whyatt Mondesire, head of the local NAACP chapter, said too many radio talk shows had beaten up on Vick and that he saw elements of racism in some of the comments. Even though the march fizzled, Mondesire had words of support for Vick.

"Michael is not alone. This is not a one-sided dialogue," Mondesire said. "There are other forces in this community that believe in this man."

Former state Rep. Harold James, who was with Mondesire, noted Vick's partnership with The Humane Society of the United States to warn urban youths against dogfighting.

"That's important in terms of recovery," James said. "The City of Brotherly Love should welcome him and give him that chance."

Also among those wearing Vick's number 7 were Haley Rooney, 16, of Wayne, and her friend Kirk Shields, 16, of Gulph Mills.

"We like him as a player; we don't like him as a person," Rooney said. "He deserves a second chance, though."

Vick entered the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars on the second play from scrimmage to a rousing ovation from the crowd. He played receiver and quarterback -- completing all four pass attempts for 19 yards -- and was on the field for a total of six plays in the 33-32 Eagles victory.