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A source close to Vick with links to the NFL told SI last week that those two characterizations oversimplify the situation. "Mike really loves dogs," said the source, who asked not to be named. "It's the country side of him coming out. He doesn't believe he's doing anything wrong. It's a cultural thing for him that got worse as he got the means to support his friends who are more into [dogfighting] than him.... He's heavily influenced by a dogfighting culture that travels to Baltimore, [ Washington] D.C. and Virginia for fights." The source also said that Vick was frequently at the Moonlight Road house in past off-seasons.
Two other Vick associates told SI.com's Don Banks that the quarterback knew about the dogfighting at the house on Moonlight Road and cited his "affinity" for the dogfighting subculture. On Sunday, ESPN's Outside the Lines aired an interview with a confidential source who said he personally saw Vick gambling on his own dog at a fight in 2000 and that Vick was "one of the heavyweights" of the dogfighting world.
Vick has declined further comment, citing the advice of his attorney, Larry Woodward, who did not respond to messages left by SI. In his comments after the allegations arose, Vick said, "It's a call for me to really tighten down on who I'm trying to take care of. When it all boils down, people will try to take advantage of you and leave you out to dry."
Accused athletes often claim they're targets of smear campaigns. In this case Vick indeed seems a marked man. To Strouse and others, including officials from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), who have seen dogfighting grow into what they call a multimillion-dollar industry with its own magazines, underground highlight DVDs and even music (videos by rappers such as DMX and Jay-Z pay homage to the sport), seeing Vick implicated in a dogfighting case would be like landing the great white whale. They've been building a case against Vick in the press and have forwarded material to Surry County law enforcement to help the investigation. Their motives are twofold: They believe Vick was involved, claiming they've heard from informants for years that he was into dogfighting. And, perhaps more important, an indictment filed against one of the NFL's signature stars would boost their broader efforts to combat the grisly pastime of dogfighting, which is a felony in every state but Idaho and Wyoming (where it is a misdemeanor).
"There exists a dogfighting subculture in the NFL and NBA," says Wayne Pacelle, president of the HSUS. "And to have an athlete of [ Vick's] stature charged would be an enormous wake-up call to everyone in professional sports who has dabbled in or dived into the underworld of dogfighting."
Dogfighting cases are often difficult to prove and are largely built on circumstantial evidence, says Mark Kumpf, an expert who has testified in several high-profile trials. When Poindexter met with investigators on May 21, the bulk of the evidence he reviewed was likely what was seized during the raid--the rape stand, the "break stick" used to pry open a dog's jaws, the "keep" schedule written on the wall of one building. According to a search warrant executed on the Moonlight Road property, three envelopes addressed to "M. Vick" were also seized.
After the raid, authorities discovered that VicksK9Kennels.com, which offered pit bulls and presa canarios for sale, listed an address on Moonlight Road and was registered to one of Vick's companies, MV7 LLC. (The site has since shut down, and Vick put the Moonlight Road property up for sale.) The transport of dogs across state lines for the purposes of fighting is a federal offense, and an official from the United States Department of Agriculture, the federal agency that investigates dogfighting, attended the meeting between Poindexter and the county sheriff's department last week. Earlier Poindexter said "not to rule out" the possibility that federal authorities could play a role in the investigation.
Law enforcement officials are not the only ones attempting to ascertain Vick's involvement. The NFL is "taking this very seriously" according to league spokesman Greg Aiello. NFL security has offered its services to Surry County investigators, and the league has been questioning people with ties to the case.
The dogfighting allegations arise at a time when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is cracking down on players who run afoul of the law. "I was very clear with Michael," Goodell said after meeting with Vick on April 28. "People living in your house and people on your property [are] your responsibility. He needed to make sure he surrounded himself with people who were going to treat him properly and represent him the way he wanted to be."
Goodell has received letters from Pacelle and from U.S. congressman Tom Lantos (D., Calif.), who urged the commissioner "to act swiftly and forcefully" in the case. In addition the commissioner was compelled to address comments made by Washington Redskins running back Clinton Portis, who excused dogfighting in an interview with Norfolk TV station WAVY. "It's [ Vick's] property; it's his dogs. If that's what he wants to do, do it," Portis said. He added that if Vick were convicted of dogfighting, he would be "behind bars for no reason."