Vick supporters turn out for town meeting in Atlanta

Updated: September 26, 2007, 12:59 AM ET
Associated Press

ATLANTA -- Wearing No. 7 jerseys and T-shirts that proclaimed "Free Michael Vick," supporters of the disgraced Atlanta Falcons quarterback turned out for a town meeting that was supposed to expose the divided feelings over his dogfighting case.

The ESPN-sponsored event came on the same day that Vick was indicted in Virginia on state charges that could land him more time in prison. He already pleaded guilty in a federal case related to a gruesome dogfighting operation found on property he owned in his home state.

Several hundred people turned out for the panel discussion.

Also, ESPN handlers were still trying to rustle up audience members after the 90-minute event went on the air. Dozens of them wandered in during commercial breaks, apparently lured more by the prospect of getting some face time on the live broadcast rather than their feelings about the Vick case.

The panelists included nationally syndicated radio host Neal Boortz, newspaper columnists Terence Moore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Selena Roberts of the New York Times, and former Falcons players Terrence Mathis and Chuck Smith. John Goodwin, who handles dogfighting cases for the Humane Society of the United States, and R.L. White, president of the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP, spoke from the audience.

It was clearly a pro-Vick crowd. White was cheered when he accused the media of devoting too much coverage to the case.

"At some point, enough is enough," White said. "This is overkill. He's been subjected to every kind of negative press there can be."

Goodwin, on the other hand, was heckled when he defended his group and other animal-rights organizations for taking such a keen interest in the case. He reminded everyone that Vick and his associates admitted to electrocuting, drowning and hanging dogs that lost fights or didn't show enough aggressiveness.

"Talk about overkill," Goodwin said, his voice drowned out by Vick's raucous supporters. "It's overkill to drown an animal because he didn't show enough ability in the fighting pit. We've got to remember the real victims are buried under about 6 feet of dirt in Surry County, Virginia."

Gerald Rose, whose Atlanta-based New Order National Human Rights Organization has held rallies in support of Vick, said the media has a double standard for white and black athletes who run afoul of the law.

"It seems like when African-American athletes and white athletes get in trouble, they're always biased against the African-American athlete," Rose said.

Moore agreed, though he was quick to point out that those disparities don't really apply in the Vick case.

"He confessed," said Moore, who is black. "It's not like there's a grassy knoll or a second gunman. There was one gunman in this case. It was Michael Vick."


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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