The sordid saga of NFL star Michael "Ookie" Vick is now a civil rights issue, at least in the eyes of some NAACP officials.
In interviews on NBC's "Today" show and with the Associated Press, interim NAACP President Dennis Courtland Hayes said the Falcons quarterback--accused of running a multi-state dog-fighting ring--"must account for what he has done." But Mr. Hayes also cautioned against condemning Vick too quickly, and said that some of his defenders are expressing "frustration" over disparities in the criminal justice system that disproportionately pays attention to African-Americans and Hispanics.
“While no dog deserves to be mistreated, the backdrop includes the perception among some African-Americans that the criminal justice system treats them like animals and that nobody seems willing to do anything about the disparity.”
Hayes, who said the national group did not have an official position on the case, said he didn’t want to speculate about whether Vick was being treated differently because he is black.
“He may in fact be being treated better than some African-Americans and Hispanics who don’t have the resources and financial means that he has,” Hayes said. “On the other hand, there might be some of a different race or different ethnicity who might be treated a bit differently.”
Give me a break. Mr. Hayes comments on "disparities" in the criminal justice system--and warnings about a "premature" condemnation of Michael Vick--suggests that his group has a position on the case--they simply don't want to say it, knowing it would create a public relations nightmare for the NAACP.
But, for argument's say, we'll play along with Mr. Hayes for a moment. And, we'll even support the NAACP's long-standing position that the poor and minorities often lack the legal resources to successfully defend themselves in court.
But the idea that Michael Vick is being singled out because of his race is laughable. Forget about his skin color; Mr. Vick belongs to that segment of society that can afford the best legal team and wage a protracted court fight, if necessary. Vick's lead attorney in the dog-fighting case (Billy Martin) doesn't work cheap, and he's been logging lots of billable hours since signing on with his high-profile client.
And of course, Vick's attorneys had the option of taking the case to trial, attempting to persuade a jury that their client was innocent. But, faced with a mountain of evidence seized from Vick's property--and three co-defendants willing to testify against him--defense attorneys convinced the former Virginia Tech star to accept a plea deal. They clearly understood that Vick stood little chance of beating the federal dog-fighting and conspiracy charges--not to mention the racketeering charges that prosecutors threatened to tack on.
So, under the advice of highly competent--and well-paid--attorneys, Mr. Vick will plead guilty next Monday to one count of "conspiracy to travel in interstate commerce in aid of unlawful activities and conspiracy to sponsor a dog in an animal fighting venture." He still faces possible charges in Virginia, where his "Bad Newz Kennels" operated openly for more than five years. State charges of animal cruelty (and other crimes) could get Vick another 40 years in jail.
But forget about such trivial stuff. According to another NAACP official, the focus should now be on Vick's rehabilitation and a speedy return to the NFL.
Atlanta NAACP Chapter President R.L. White said Monday that we should "welcome a new Michael Vick back into the community without a permanent loss of his career in football,'' said R.L. White, president of the NAACP's Atlanta chapter. "We further ask the NFL, Falcons, and the sponsors not to permanently ban Mr. Vick from his ability to bring hours of enjoyment to fans all over this country.''
Translated, let's give Vick another chance so we can claim some organizational clout, and who knows, maybe Ookie will send us a little love, in the form of a fat donation check.
The NAACP's continued defense of Michael Vick is another indication of the organization's sad decline. Even a seasoned race-baiter like Al Sharpton--usually the first to cry discrimination--took a pass on defending the Falcons quarterback, siding with animal rights activists instead. But NAACP refuses to abandon Ookie's sinking ship. In his recent interview with the AP, Mr. White suggested that Vick's plea deal was more about "cutting losses" than guilt or innocence, and expressed regret that, with the plea deal, "the facts of the case might never be known."
For that, Mr. White should be grateful. The allegations in Vick's case are extremely disturbing, and testimony at trial promised to be graphic. Mr. Vick's co-defendants were prepared to testify that the NFL star staged numerous dog fights over a five-year period, bet thousands of dollars on the blood sport, and executed dogs that failed to perform, by hanging, strangling and electrocution.
Given the sheer barbarity of what transpired at "Bad Newz Kennels," we're unconvinced that Michael Vick deserves a second chance. Besides, there's also the issue of accepting responsibility for your actions, and in that department, Ookie's been slow off the mark. When allegations against him first surfaced last April, he tried to shift blame on his associates, and quickly sold the property, for barely half it's $750,000 value. We suppose that might also be classified as "cutting your losses."
But forgotten amid the swirl of investigation, indictments, plea deals and media coverage are some of the surviving victims of Mr. Vick's "hobby." When police and animal control agents first raided Vick's property, they found 53 pit bulls on the premises. The deadline for claiming those animals is today. Not surprisingly, no one has stepped forward to claim the dogs, who will likely be euthanized.
Admittedly, there's little hope of rehabilitating dogs who've been bred to fight. But there's no reason that their former owner couldn't set aside some money for long-term care. Yeah, food and vet bills for 53 pit bulls over the next decade could get expensive, but Vick isn't without means. But it was easier to turn his back on the dogs that were once used for amusement and sport. Just one more write-off for the NFL superstar.
Which makes the NAACP's defense of Vick that much more preposterous. Mr. Vick wasn't prosecuted because of his skin color or his celebrity status. He ran afoul of the law because he eagerly engaged in the most barbaric of sports, with absolutely no concern (or compassion) for the animals were were maimed or killed.
How do you defend--let alone, rehabilitate--someone like that?
From our "With Friends Like This" Department, check out the comments of NBA player Stephon Marbury, who simply believes that Ookie "fell into a bad situation." He also likens dog fighting to hunting:
"I think, you know, we don't say anything about people who shoot deer or shoot other animals. You know, from what I hear, dogfighting is a sport. It's just behind closed doors."
Knicks fans must be so proud.