Vick turns tide against dogfighting

Maybe it was one of the times John Goodwin found a more receptive audience while lobbying politicians for stricter sentencing against dogfighting.

Maybe it was one of the times a law enforcement training session was packed with police.

Maybe it was while he was riding along on what is an increasing number of raids on dogfighting operations.

Photo Vick has given Goodwin and the Humane Society a more prominent platform.
(Steve Helber/AP Photo)

Whenever it was, there was a moment over the past two years that Goodwin, the anti-dog fighting expert at the Humane Society of the United States, realized that of all the unexpected things, a silver lining had formed in the ugly clouds of the Michael Vick(notes) scandal.

“People campaigned against dogfighting ever since the first dogfight ever happened,” Goodwin said. “But never had there been a spotlight put on this issue like when Michael Vick was involved in it.

“What we’ve all learned is certain high-profile events change the trajectory of issues and this was that moment for dogfighting.”

Vick returns to the NFL on Sunday as a backup quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles. He’s nearly two and a half years removed from his arrest and subsequent imprisonment for funding and operating Bad Newz Kennels, a major dogfighting operation in rural Virginia.

Goodwin will be watching his return. He once led animal cruelty protests of Vick outside court proceedings. Now they are on the same team, the Humane Society enlisting Vick as a spokesman.

Goodwin isn’t going to call Vick a friend; he isn’t going to forget the violence that occurred under his watch. Yet the two have become strange partners – each using the other for their own selfish purposes. Vick needs the public relations help. The Humane Society needs the star power and credibility Vick has brought to speaking engagements to children in Chicago, Atlanta and Philadelphia.

“People always ask if he’s sincere,” Goodwin said. “He certainly comes across as sincere but I believe in the long run his actions will either prove or disprove his sincerity on this.

“I do think the young people who’ve come and heard him speak really believed him. That is what’s most important. That’s why we entered into this relationship. After we weighed everything out it became a no-brainer that giving Michael Vick a platform to speak out against dogfighting would be quite powerful.”

While Goodwin is pleased that he has someone capable of reaching certain groups, particularly inner-city children, the speeches Vick is giving for the Humane Society are a drop in the bucket to the impact he unwittingly had on the issue.

The brutality that surrounds the sport was once, for most Americans, out of mind. This was an underground, backwoods activity. Now it is common knowledge. A million speeches couldn’t duplicate the media coverage and public discourse on the issue.

“I think there is a heightened sympathy for the animals because people who may have been against dogfighting from the start, now realize that it’s actually more horrible than they imagined,” Goodwin said.

“People didn’t think about the fact that dogs that performed poorly might be electrocuted. Now a lot of people know that.”

It’s also silenced nearly everyone who doesn’t consider it such a big deal.

“You’ve also got people who may have been antagonistic and they’ve seen the public outcry over this and no one wants to face that,” Goodwin said.

Photo Vick is on the verge of playing in his first regular season game since 2006.
(The Star-Ledger/US Presswire)

The result has been 27 new laws passed at both the federal and state levels to increase punishments against dogfighting since Vick’s arrest. The crime is now a felony in all 50 states (it was 48 pre-Vick). Police, now sensing that this is a crime the public won’t stand for, have increased their enforcement of the law, stepping up raids and following tips.

And presumably, people that may have just looked the other way or even partaken in dogfighting have had second thoughts due to the publicity about ramifications of their involvement.

Make no mistake, Goodwin wishes it never happened. The murdered and mistreated dogs are his chief concern. Yet it did happen and the moment he heard about it he sought to “gather the facts and then see what could be done to turn this into a net plus for the dogs, who are the victims of dogfighting.”

In more than two years later, that net plus has been realized.

The fight against dogfighting continues, Goodwin is busier than ever, but at least something good has come from the bad news of Michael Vick’s kennels.

Dan Wetzel is Yahoo! Sports' national columnist. He is the co-author of the book "Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series," which following five printings of the first edition was re-released in a second, updated edition in October. Follow him on Twitter. Send Dan a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Thursday, Sep 24, 2009