Eagles’ Michael Vick protested by animal rights group at Oakland Coliseum
on October 19, 2009
An hour before kickoff at the Oakland Raiders football game Sunday, many silver-and-black clad Raiders fans did something that on any other day might peg them traitors–they showed support for the opposing team’s new quarterback.
That quarterback was the Philadelphia Eagles’ Michael Vick, who was released from federal prison in May after serving 18 months for his involvement in dogfighting rings. Vick’s first football appearance in the Bay Area also brought about two dozen animal rights protesters to the southwest corner of the Oakland Coliseum to push the National Football League to explicitly prohibit animal fighting in its employee Personal Conduct Policy.
“Whether we like it or not, NFL players are role models,” said Hope Bohanec, the grassroots campaign director for In Defense of Animals, the group that organized the protest. “We don’t necessarily feel he should be fired, but we would love to see action [proving] he has reformed.”
Raiders fans, though, weren’t buying the protest. A stream of people heading into the stadium shouted comments in favor of Vick at the protesters: “Go feed the homeless.” “Do something else with your time.” “Leave the man alone.” “He’s only human. Haven’t you made a mistake?”
Many pointed out that other NFL players have committed “worse” crimes including murder and domestic abuse. Others directly confronted the protesters, and one Raiders fan planted himself inches from Bohanec’s face. “Give the man a break,” the fan said. “You’re prosecuting him all over again.”
In Defense of Animals, an international animal advocacy organization, initiated its campaign a month and a half ago when the group, headquartered in San Rafael, learned Vick would be coming to the Bay Area. Since posting its position on its website earlier this month, the group has honed its message and no longer demands the NFL refuse to employ perpetrators of crimes against animals, Bohanec said.
Since his release from prison, Vick has joined the Humane Society of the United States’ End Dogfighting program, which focuses on preventing inner-city youth from taking part in animal fighting. As part of the program, he has spoken to teens in his hometown–Newport News, Virginia–as well as in Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Washington D.C. about avoiding succumbing to peer pressure, according to the Washington Post.
But Bohanec said In Defense of Animals believes Vick has yet to “show remorse,” a condition NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell demanded of Vick upon reinstating him to the NFL in March 2009.
The NFL Personal Conduct Policy states, “While criminal activity is clearly outside the scope of permissible conduct, the standard of conduct for persons employed in the NFL is considerably higher.” Its list of criminal offenses includes nonviolent activities such as fraud and money laundering.
While many fans dismissed the protesters, other ticket-holders at Sunday’s game expressed ambivalence. Should the NFL amend its code? “That’s tough,” said Raiders fan Cameron Quick. “Is it a big issue or an isolated instance?”
Should Vick be allowed to play? “I’m a strong supporter of animal rights,” said Noel Daniels, who said he had no allegiance to either team, “but I’m on the fence about him playing.” Daniels said he thought the NFL needed to continue to speak out against animal cruelty. “They denounced Vick’s actions and they need to back that,” he said.
Bohanec expressed frustration with game-goers’ focus on Vick and said that her group aims to raise awareness about dogfighting in general. But Bohanec said she would consider the protest successful if Vick spoke to youth specifically about “the horrors of dogfighting” and “got on board” with the group’s mission to convince the NFL to revise its policy.
In Defense of Animals members and their supporters also plan to appear at the Eagles’ December 20th game in San Francisco.
“This is just a start of education,” said supporter Corrine Dowling, who joined the protest. “Michael Vick put a face on dogfighting, but dogfighting happens everyday in San Francisco, Oakland, Los Gatos and attracts people from all walks of life.”
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