Last month, the NFL announced Michael Vick as one of four “legends captains” for the 2020 Pro Bowl. And this month, animal rights activists are fighting back.
As many will recall, in 2007, police raided Vick’s Bad Newz Kennels and found 49 pit bulls, malnourished and injured, chained to old car axels in the woods of Surry, Virginia. There were also the remains of dozens of dogs who’d been killed — all part of a vicious dogfighting ring.
Later that year, a federal judge sentenced Vick, then 27 and the quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons, to 23 months in prison and fined him nearly $1 million for victim restitution and the lifetime care and rehabilitation of the 47 surviving dogs (two eventually needed to be put down). Vick served 18 months in prison.
Though Vick returned to the NFL for seven more seasons in 2009 — and most of the dogs found loving new homes in the months after the Bad Newz raid — fans have not forgotten Vick’s actions, and are circulating change.org petitions asking the NFL to remove him from the Pro Bowl.
In one of three petitions, creator Joanna Lind writes, “When is the NFL going to take any responsibility for the behavior of it’s current and former players? To honor a man who had zero regard for animals is unacceptable and I would like your help to make sure he is NOT honored at the 2020 NFL Pro Bowl.”
Comments from supporters call him a “horrifically abusive person” and “a monster,” arguing that “in order to do things like he did you need a complete lack of empathy not unlike a serial killer.”
For his part, Vick worked to rehabilitate his image post-prison, becoming an animal rights activist with the Humane Society of the United States in 2009, working specifically with the organization’s End Dog Fighting campaign.
Ann Chynoweth, then Senior Director of the HSUS Animal Cruelty and Fighting Campaign, told PEOPLE at the time that the organization believed Vick “paid his price for his crime,” and what’s important now is working together to end dog fighting.
“We don’t know what is in his heart and his mind, but we wanted to give him the chance to do something good and show he’s heading in the right direction, working against animal cruelty and dog fighting, specifically,” she said. “This was a serious crime he was convicted of, so we’re taking this one day at a time. If there’s any work he can do to stop dog fighting, we’re all for it.”
In a blog entry dated May 20, 2009, HSUS president Wayne Pacelle revealed he met with Vick in prison, sharing that the disgraced football star “asked for the opportunity to help. He said this experience has been a trauma and he’s changed forever. And he said he wants to show the American public that he is committed to helping combat this problem.”
Following the 2007 raid, the surviving dogs were sent to various shelters around the U.S., and many were profiled in the years following in books like The Found Dogs and profiles in Sports Illustrated and on HBO. One of the last remaining dogs died just this summer.
In addition to Vick, Pro Football Hall of Famers Darrell Green, Bruce Smith and Terrell Davis are serving as legend captains in the Pro Bowl.