Hometown residents stand by Vick
NEWPORT NEWS, Va. -- To prosecutors, Michael Vick is a ruthless participant in a dogfighting operation.
To people living in the poor, crime-ridden neighborhood where Vick grew up, he is a generous benefactor who provides school supplies and athletic uniforms to local kids and buys air conditioners for housing-project residents suffering through Virginia's sweltering summers.
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That is why they're sure that "Ookie," as he's known to childhood pals, is innocent.
"He's a good person. He's making a difference in the community," Misha Brown said Tuesday as she dropped off her children at the same Boys & Girls Club where the 27-year-old Vick honed the athletic skills that made him the No. 1 pick in the 2001 NFL draft.
Though Brown has never met the Atlanta Falcons quarterback, she sings his praises. Without his generosity, she said, her children and others in the East End neighborhood would not have had backpacks and other supplies for school last year
"There should be more role models like him," she said.
Vick and three other men are to be arraigned Thursday in federal court in Richmond, accused of a conspiracy involving competitive dogfighting, procuring and training pit bulls for fighting and conducting the enterprise across state lines.
The dogs fought at a property Vick owned in rural Surry County and, the indictment alleges, animals too weak to fight were hanged, drowned, shot to death or electrocuted.
There's no way Vick would be involved in something like that, said 29-year-old Anthony Cypress, who lives in the housing project where Vick was raised and said he played pickup basketball with him.
"Michael Vick is a good guy," Cypress said as he checked on laundry drying on a clothesline among the rows of identical blue and off-white housing units near a shipyard and coal piers. "I know he loves animals. Why he would throw them in a ring and try to kill them, I don't know."
Cypress said his 10-year-old son, Christopher, plays football for the Boys & Girls Club wearing a uniform, helmet and cleats provided by Vick. So do many of the other kids at the club, where Vick funds a lot of activities without making a fuss, he said.
So important was the Boys & Girls Club to Vick that he went there to announce his decision to leave Virginia Tech after just two seasons to enter the NFL draft. The club, he said then, helped keep him off the streets.
Vick's mentor there, James "Poo" Johnson, has known Vick since the football star was 7.
"He's being portrayed now sort of like a monster, but that's not him," said Johnson, now assistant chief executive officer of Boys & Girls Clubs of the Virginia Peninsula, said in a telephone interview. "I know his heart."
Travis Baptist, who said he knows Vick from the neighborhood, declared "Ookie is innocent!" when asked about the charges.
Vick has never forgotten his roots and might be a victim of his loyalty to the old neighborhood, Baptist said.
"He's just caught up with dudes, by still being good to the people in his neighborhood, hanging around his little team, his group of guys he likes to be around," Baptist said.
Jimmie Espich, who taught Vick English at Warwick High School, remembered him as a quiet, self-contained student with a sunny personality who earned mostly Bs.
"Michael had a dignity about him," Espich said in a telephone interview.
During the spring of Vick's senior year, the school's football coach arranged a meeting with Vick and his teachers. Espich said the teachers talked to Vick about the importance of working hard until the end, not just in high school but in life.
"I remember saying that ... there were going to be a lot of temptations in life, especially if he became this great athlete, and that he needed to begin practicing saying 'no' and not doing what the crowd was doing," she said.
"I guess I should have written it on his forehead," she said.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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VICK SENTENCED TO 23 MONTHS
Michael Vick was sentenced to 23 months in federal prison and three years' probation for his role in a dogfighting conspiracy. The suspended Falcons quarterback is looking at a scheduled release of July 2009. Story
Update• GM: Falcons will attempt to trade Vick
• Lawyer: Vick might move to halfway house
• Former Vick estate fails to sell again
• Vick house fails to sell at auction
• Vick files for bankruptcy protection
• Prosecutor: Vick's Virginia trial can wait
• Vick ordered to repay Canadian bank $2.4 million
• Judge denies NFL motion to reverse Vick ruling
• Report: Vick not playing organized football in jail
• Report: Vick passes time with prison-yard football
• Vick's state dogfighting trial to begin June 27
• Munson: Vick yet to enter drug treatment
The sentence• Vick sent to Kansas to serve rest of sentence
• Vick asked judge for leniency before sentencing
• Vick sentenced to 23 months | Document (pdf)
• Poll: What do you think? | What they're saying
• Clayton: Sentence puts career in jeopardy
• Munson: Tough sentence by displeased judge
• Teammates show support at Falcons game
• Can Vick return to playing in NFL?
• Pasquarelli: No longer top of mind in Atlanta
• Last Vick co-defendant sentenced
• Podcasts : Cossack | Schlereth | Munson/Naqi | Pasquarelli
• Chat wrap: David Cornwell
Post Plea• NFL wants court to reverse Vick bonus ruling
• Victory for Vick: QB can keep $20 million bonus
• Fifth defendant in Vick case receives probation
• Vick's house for sale for $1.1M
• Some Falcons to visit Vick in prison
• PETA unveils new e-card
• Former Virginia estate fails to sell at auction
• Out of Falcons' sight, almost out of mind
• Judge's casework offers look at possible sentence
• Remaining dogs placed with rescue groups
• Source: Feds may push judge to up sentence
• NFLPA argues Vick should not lose roster bonus
• Vick co-defendants get 18, 21 months in prison
• Vick agrees to put up almost $1M for dogs' care
• Vick given April trial date on state charges
• Vick surrenders to begin serving sentence early
• Home at center of Vick dogfighting scandal sold
• Vick fires one of his lawyers in dogfighting case
• Man who sold Vick pit bull pleads guilty
• Man connected to Vick dogfight ring pleads guilty
• Third bank sues Vick, claims he defaulted on loan
• Arbiter: Falcons have right to reclaim bonuses
• PETA: Vick had class on animal cruelty
• Evaluations show 48 of Vick's dogs placeable
• Vick tests positive for marijuana
• Vick supporters turn out for town meeting
• Vick's apology notes fetch $10.2K at auction
Vick's Plea/NFL Suspension• Vick pleads guilty to federal dogfighting charge
• The plea (PDF) | Statement of facts (PDF)
• Vick's statement: Watch it | Read it
• Roger Cossack explains plea deal
• Poll: Vick should be banned
• Va. Tech, Beamer continue to support Vick
• Vick supporters drown out protesters
• NFL suspends Vick indefinitely | Goodell (PDF)
• Chris Mortensen on Vick's suspension
• Vick files plea agreement admitting to dogfighting
Indictment• Marbury's about-face: Vick 'is 100 percent wrong'
• National NAACP: Vick 'not a victim' | Audio
• Atlanta NAACP: Vick should be allowed to return
• Falcons come to terms with 'ex-teammate'
• Vick timeline | What they're saying
• Helyar: Even Atlanta turns against Vick
• Goodell: Vick not overshadowing season
• Vick co-defendant pleads guilty to charges
• Tony Taylor: Summary of Facts | Plea agreement
• Hometown residents stand by Vick
• Falcons had planned to suspend Vick
• Commish tells Vick to avoid camp
• Vick indicted | The indictment (pdf) | Civil arrest warrant (pdf)
Town Hall meeting• Town Hall chat wrap: Chadiha
Previous columns/analysis• Munson: Q&A on Vick reporting to prison early
• Munson: Looking at Judge Hudson
• Vick's high school learning lessons
• Bryant: Confounded by race issue
• Munson: Q&A about local indictment
• Munson: Next focus for Vick is length of sentence
• Schlabach: Vick an afterthought on VT campus
• Chadiha: Vick not running from truth
• Hill: Coverage means bigger issues ignored
• Wojciechowski: Pay attention to the fallen star
• Bryant: Vick's plea deal comes with baggage
• Bryant: In failing Vick, NFLPA fails itself
• Munson: Vick plea means surrender
• Forde: Vick's epic fall
• Pasquarelli: Major blow for Falcons
• Chadiha: Lots of lessons to be learned
• Wojciechowski: Punishment with teeth
• Easterbrook: Little sympathy?
• Clayton: Vick's NFL future might be bleak
• E-Ticket: A history of mistrust
• Chadiha: Vick's bad choices