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Video: Michael Vick speaks to Chicago youth about dogfighting

September 1, 2009 |  4:08 pm

Michael Vick returned to the football field last week in a preseason game between his new team, the Philadelphia Eagles, and the Jacksonville Jaguars.  But the convicted dogfighter is also busy off the field, fulfilling his end of the bargain he struck in May with the Humane Society of the United States to work with the group on its End Dogfighting campaign.

Anti-dogfighting advocate Tio Hardiman said he was moved by Vick's recent Humane Society-sponsored appearance in Chicago, at which he spoke to young people about the perils of the blood sport. "I saw tears in Vick's eyes," Hardiman told our colleague Kurt Streeter. "You could see him struggling with the emotions when he talked to the kids. He told them what he did was something they shouldn't follow. These kids, some of them had never heard this message put the way he did."

Of course, not all animal advocates are convinced by Vick's apparent change of heart; after his appearance last month on "60 Minutes," American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals President Ed Sayres was one particularly vocal critic of Vick and CBS News' portrayal of him on the program.

The show "provided a convicted criminal a national platform to selfishly focus on his own recovery when, in fact, the animals, the victims who cannot speak for themselves, should have received the attention," Sayres said in a statement. "CBS did a grave disservice to the animal welfare community by failing to show the ugly truth of Mr. Vick’s actions and the horrors of dogfighting and animal cruelty in this country."

Francis Battista, co-founder of the group Best Friends Animal Society, which cared for a number of the dogs rescued from Vick's Bad Newz Kennels, expressed similar skepticism about his image overhaul in a Philadelphia Inquirer opinion piece published last week. "Vick certainly appeared concerned about returning to football as soon as possible," Battista wrote. "We would like to be more convinced of his concern for animals, if only he could humble himself by changing water, scooping poop, or sweeping floors at a local shelter -- where dogs slated for deaths more merciful than those Vick meted out wait hopefully for simple acts of human kindness."

Sayres and Battista noted that representatives for Vick had contacted their respective groups while he was still in prison to explore the possibility of a partnership similar to the one he eventually forged with the Humane Society. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals was apparently contacted by Vick's public relations staff as well, but the Humane Society was the only animal protection group that took him up on his offer. That move has polarized many animal lovers.

Responding to criticism about the decision to work with Vick, Humane Society President and Chief Executive Wayne Pacelle said the football star had "asked for an opportunity to help. I want to give him that opportunity. If he makes the most of it, and demonstrates a sincere, long-term commitment to the task, then it may prove to be a tipping point in our campaign to eradicate dogfighting. If he demonstrates a fleeting or superficial interest, then it will be his own failing, not ours."

The Humane Society recently made available the above video, which shows a portion of Vick's Chicago speech.  Pacelle also notes on his blog that the Eagles organization -- perhaps stinging a bit from the negative press that followed their signing of the troubled quarterback -- "is going to invest in anticruelty and anti-fighting programs in the [Philadelphia region]."

Does the video change your opinion of Vick at all, one way or the other?

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-- Lindsay Barnett

Video: Humane Society of the United States

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