SI Vault
 
Fed Up Yet?
JACK McCALLUM
August 06, 2007
A Nation Turns Its Lonely Eyes to . . . Who?
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
August 06, 2007

Fed Up Yet?

A Nation Turns Its Lonely Eyes to . . . Who?

View CoverRead All Articles

A man wearing a white number 7 Michael Vick replica jersey stood defiantly in the gallery of a federal courtroom in Richmond last Thursday, as the Atlanta Falcons' star quarterback pleaded not guilty to charges related to dogfighting. Whatever you think about the spectator, Shawn Dodson of Lynchburg, Va., the man has a thick skin. As he left the courtroom following the hearing, the 33-year-old Dodson was jeered by pet owners and animal-rights activists and other wide swaths of the citizenry. "This is crazy," he said.

Some would say that showing support for a 27-year-old multimillionaire who allegedly took part in killing his underperforming dogs by electrocution and drowning is crazy. But the circus atmosphere that surrounded the Vick hearing, as well as subsequent comments about the dogfighting case, prove one thing: In America there are always divergent points of view.

Well, almost always. A Save Tim Donaghy group has yet to emerge in response to the ongoing federal investigation into whether the 40-year-old former NBA referee made calls to manipulate point totals and conspired with gamblers who had ties to organized crime (page 43). Rep. Bobby Rush of Illinois, the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection, wrote to NBA commissioner David Stern last week, "If the allegations prove true, this could be one of the most damaging scandals in the history of American sports." But there are most assuredly dissenting opinions about the third prong of the sports world's ongoing misadventures--the pursuit by presumed steroid cheat Barry Bonds of Hank Aaron's hallowed home run record, which Bonds remained one short of matching through Monday night.

As the sports media spare no saliva in covering these events--ESPN blanketed the Vick hearing with a blessed armada that included the NFL Live crew, the Outside the Lines crew and the legal analysis crew--a search for perspective becomes almost as imperative as the search for truth and justice. In the 24/7 news cycle that holds sway over us, misbehaving athletes and misbehaving referees sometimes get way too much coverage (something they share with freeway car chases and the after-hours antics of tabloid party queens), and so the wheel of public opinion takes a reverse spin.

Vick, accused on July 17 in an 18-page indictment of sponsoring and wagering on dogfighting and of treating his dogs with chilling cruelty, becomes, in more and more circles, the one who is being wronged. A plane flies over the Falcons' training camp in Flowery Branch, Ga., last Thursday pulling a banner that reads, NEW TEAM NAME? DOG-KILLERS?, and tight end Alge Crumpler says hopefully, "I was wondering when it was going to run out of gas." Denver Nuggets guard Allen Iverson, no stranger to run-ins with the law and, like Vick, a native of southeastern Virginia, tells Vick to "keep his head up" and suggests that he is being pursued by authorities because there is always a "bull's-eye" on prominent athletes. Former Atlanta coach Dan Reeves says that he would "do anything I could to help Mike."

And while Dodson was the only person in a number 7 spotted inside the courtroom, several more so attired held a Vick vigil outside the building. "It was time that someone should step up and support him," said Nick Fontecchio, who with two friends made the nine-hour drive from Boston to stand by their man. Michael Geary, one of Fontecchio's pals, called Vick "the most exciting player in football" and observed that "you never know what he's going to do next." (Insert joke here.) Perhaps this should be viewed as a Kumbaya moment for America: Caucasians from a city known for racial tension heading south in support of an African-American.

We've seen a similar shift regarding Bonds, who hit home run number 754 last Friday night. The fact that the 43-year-old San Francisco Giants slugger is skewered in the media is the very reason to embrace him more tightly. For the fans at AT&T Park and the paddlers in McCovey Cove last week, the hovering media pack is as welcome as an invasion of killer bees. The mood at the ballpark can be characterized thusly: Fans just want to be in attendance when Bonds breaks the record, the Giants just want Bonds to break the record so the media will leave them alone, and opponents just want Bonds to break the record because they are sick to death of having to answer questions about a controversy that doesn't concern them.

Last week the spotlight fell most harshly on Vick. On Monday, four days after Vick said in a statement that he "looks forward to clearing my good name," a codefendant in the case, Tony Taylor, changed his plea to guilty and signed a statement in which he said that Vick supplied almost all of the money used to run the dogfighting operation and to bet on fights. Taylor said he was not promised a lighter sentence by prosecutors, but he is now expected to testify against Vick and the two other defendants, Purnell Peace and Quanis Phillips. The four men were partners in Bad Newz Kennels, which operated on a property owned by Vick in Surry County, Va., but Taylor was reportedly not as close to Vick as the other codefendants and recently was not as involved in the kennel's business.

The developments only deepened the perception that Vick's chances of playing in 2007 are slim, and not just because NFL commissioner Roger Goodell barred him from attending training camp. The animal-rights groups that have demonstrated outside the Falcons' gates represent a powerful lobby--it's as if the Vick case was the one they were waiting for. An official from the Humane Society told SI that the server that handles the organization's online donations crashed after the indictment was released, so vehement was the response to the graphic accusations it contained.

Plus, Judge Henry E. Hudson has scheduled the trial to start on Nov. 26, making it unlikely that the Falcons would hand an undeniably talented but scatter-armed quarterback the ball just to have him hand it back late in the season as he assumed the lead role in another edition of must-see Court TV. Taking the long view, if Vick is convicted--the maximum punishment for the charges against him is five years in prison and fines of up to $250,000--Goodell's decision on the QB's future playing status will be easy. But if Billy Martin, Vick's celebrity attorney who has represented Monica Lewinsky and former NBA forward Jayson Williams, arranges a plea that keeps him out of prison, Goodell's choice becomes much more difficult.

Continue Story
1 2