Football Star Michael Vick Pleads Guilty to Financing a Dogfighting Ring Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Michael Vick, a star quarterback in the National Football League, and three other men were convicted and imprisoned for their roles in a dogfighting ring on property owned by Vick in rural Virginia. Vick was suspended from the NFL, lost lucrative commercial contracts, was sued for millions of dollars by his creditors, and was ordered to pay for the long-term care of the dogs rescued from his property.

Summary of Event

On August 20, 2007, National Football League (NFL) quarterback Michael Vick pleaded guilty to one count of criminal conspiracy to operate a dogfighting ring across state lines. The case also involved the abuse and killing of dogs. Vick, who played for the Atlanta Falcons, faced state felony charges in Virginia as well for his role in the dogfighting ring and related gambling activities. [kw]Football Star Michael Vick Pleads Guilty to Financing a Dogfighting Ring (Aug. 20, 2007) [kw]Vick Pleads Guilty to Financing a Dogfighting Ring, Football Star Michael (Aug. 20, 2007) [kw]Dogfighting Ring, Football Star Michael Vick Pleads Guilty to Financing a (Aug. 20, 2007) Dogfighting Vick, Michael Football;professional National Football League;Michael Vick[Vick] Bad Newz Kennels Animal cruelty Dogfighting Vick, Michael Football;professional National Football League;Michael Vick[Vick] Bad Newz Kennels Animal cruelty [g]United States;Aug. 20, 2007: Football Star Michael Vick Pleads Guilty to Financing a Dogfighting Ring[03820] [c]Sports;Aug. 20, 2007: Football Star Michael Vick Pleads Guilty to Financing a Dogfighting Ring[03820] [c]Gambling;Aug. 20, 2007: Football Star Michael Vick Pleads Guilty to Financing a Dogfighting Ring[03820] [c]Law and the courts;Aug. 20, 2007: Football Star Michael Vick Pleads Guilty to Financing a Dogfighting Ring[03820] [c]Organized crime and racketeering;Aug. 20, 2007: Football Star Michael Vick Pleads Guilty to Financing a Dogfighting Ring[03820] [c]Violence;Aug. 20, 2007: Football Star Michael Vick Pleads Guilty to Financing a Dogfighting Ring[03820] [c]Public morals;Aug. 20, 2007: Football Star Michael Vick Pleads Guilty to Financing a Dogfighting Ring[03820] [c]Ethics;Aug. 20, 2007: Football Star Michael Vick Pleads Guilty to Financing a Dogfighting Ring[03820] Peace, Purnell A. Taylor, Tony Phillips, Quanis

Michael Vick leaving federal court in Richmond, Virginia, on July 26, 2007, following his arraignment on dogfighting charges.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

Vick had been a standout quarterback at Virginia Tech University and then was drafted in 2001 by Atlanta. His early NFL career included setting many new records, multiple playoff appearances, and high-paying commercial endorsements. In 2004, he became the NFL’s highest-paid player with a long-term contract for $130 million.

On April 25, 2007, law enforcement officials, searching for evidence in a drug case involving Vick’s cousin, found dogfighting and dog-training facilities on Vick’s fifteen-acre property near Smithfield, Virginia. The facilities were known as Bad Newz Kennels. Officials also found more than fifty pit bulls (and other dogs), treadmills modified for dogs, and other dogfighting paraphernalia.

Dogfighting is generally regarded as a cruel, brutal, and inhumane practice. So gruesome is the practice that even experienced investigators have been horrified by what they discovered at raids. Dogs used for fighting are trained to kill using a variety of methods. To ensure the animals’ aggression, the dogs are beaten, chained, and even fed gunpowder, illegal drugs, and live animals; often they are not fed at all for long periods. Dogs are also trained through the use of bait dogs, which are non-pit-trained animals used strictly as a target to kill. Bait dogs are tied to a chain while the pit fighter is free to roam, or the pit dog is duct-taped around the muzzle or legs, or both, so its cannot run or fight back. If a trained fighting dog fails to win in the ring, it is beaten, shot, or electrocuted to death, or it is fed to other dogs and killed or otherwise left to die.

On July 2, prosecutors alleged that Bad Newz Kennels had operated on Vick’s property for five years. On July 17, the U.S. district attorney’s office announced the federal grand-jury indictments of Vick and three coconspirators—Purnell A. Peace, Tony Taylor, and Quanis Phillips. On July 26, Peace, Taylor, and Phillips all pleaded guilty and were convicted for dogfighting conspiracy. Vick, who initially pleaded not guilty, admitted in a plea bargain that he paid for the dog fights and for the operation of the ring. He denied personally killing any dogs deemed unfit for fighting, although he admitted to being part of the effort to kill those dogs. He also denied placing side bets to profit from individual dog fights.

At the federal trial, U.S. District Court judge Henry E. Hudson found that Vick had been fully involved in the dogfighting ring, stating “You were instrumental in promoting, funding, and facilitating this cruel and inhumane sporting activity,” and he also noted Vick’s lack of cooperation during the inquiry. The judge also cited him for using drugs while free on bail and awaiting sentencing. In December, Vick was sentenced to twenty-three months in prison and three years probation and was fined five thousand dollars. He also was indicted by prosecutors in Surry County, Virginia, on two felony counts—dogfighting and animal cruelty. His state trial was postponed until his release from prison on the federal conviction.

In August, 2007, Vick was suspended from the NFL indefinitely by league commissioner Goodell, Roger Roger Goodell, who stated in a letter to Vick, “Your admitted conduct was not only illegal, but also cruel and reprehensible. Your team, the NFL, and NFL fans have all been hurt by your actions.” The Falcons sought to reclaim bonus money the team paid to Vick, and an arbitrator ruled the team was entitled to recoup $19.9 million. Vick also lost most of his product-endorsement contracts, leaving him virtually bankrupt.

Several companies, beginning with Nike on July 19 and including Upper Deck, Donruss, Rawlings, and Reebok, canceled their contracts with Vick. Nike announced that it suspended the release of a product bearing his name. Retail businesses removed products related to the player—even those products he endorsed—from their store shelves and Web sites, hoping to avoid any connection to Vick, Bad Newz Kennels, animal cruelty, or criminality in any form. Furthermore, Vick was forced to liquidate some of his real estate assets to pay his bills, and several banks sued him to recover about $5 million in loans on which he defaulted.

Impact

The dogfighting and animal cruelty scandal was met with widespread public disapproval and condemnation of Vick and his coconspirators. Especially shocking was the mistreatment and killing of the dogs. Federal authorities asked the judge to order Vick to set aside nearly $1 million of his own money to care for the dogs rescued from his property. The judge issued that order. A court-appointed veterinary specialist said that many of the dogs required long-term special care. By July, 2008, some of the more aggressive dogs were in the care of an animal sanctuary in Utah and others had been adopted or fostered. A documentary, “Saving the Michael Vick Dogs,” aired on the series DogTown on the National Geographic Channel in September.

Like many professional athletes, Vick had been a role model, and he even started a foundation in 2006 to help at-risk youth and help fund after-school programs. After his arrest, fund-raisers and other organizers canceled his scheduled appearance at their respective events.

Also following Vick’s arrest was the passage of a federal law against dogfighting. The Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act, signed into law in May, made organizing a dog fight a felony. Also prohibited under the new law is the transport of animals for fighting. The law also bans the use of the U.S. Postal Service to mail dogfighting paraphernalia, and it includes a civil-lawsuit provision. Dogfighting Vick, Michael Football;professional National Football League;Michael Vick[Vick] Bad Newz Kennels Animal cruelty

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Adut, Ari. On Scandal: Moral Disturbances in Society, Politics, and Art. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008. A comprehensive analysis of scandals of all types. The author explores the contexts in which “wrong-doings generate scandals and when they do not.” Focuses on how people experience scandals emotionally and cognitively.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Evans, Rhonda, Deann K. Gauthier, and Craig J. Forsyth. “Dog Fighting: Symbolic Expression and Validation of Masculinity.” Sex Roles 39, nos. 11/12 (December, 1998). A scholarly study of dogfighting as a means to validate one’s masculinity.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ledbetter, D. Orlando. “Vick Enters Drug Program: Rehab, Move to Kansas May Cut Prison Time.” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, January 1, 2008. An updated news report that details Vick’s enrollment in a drug-rehabilitation program in prison.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Maske, Mark. “Falcons’ Vick Indicted in Dog Fighting Case: Star QB Alleged to Have Been Highly Involved.” The Washington Post, July 18, 2007. A news report that discusses Vick’s indictment in the dogfighting ring case.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Smith, Stephen A. “Falls from Grace: What Young Black Athletes Should Learn from the Michael Vick and Marion Jones Dramas.” Ebony, January 1, 2008. Magazine feature on Michael Vick and Olympic sprinter Marion Jones and their fall from the top of their respective sports.

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