Animal activists, team officials to meet

Updated: August 22, 2009, 2:46 PM ET
By Sal Paolantonio | ESPN

PHILADELPHIA -- A week has gone by since Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie pledged that Michael Vick would have to be "an extremely proactive player here off the field [or] this is a terrible decision."

Vick, who has worked with the Humane Society of the United States and attended anti-dogfighting events in Chicago and Atlanta, has still not partnered up with a Philadelphia-area animal rights group to sponsor a local anti-dogfighting event. But talks directed at making one happen have been scheduled.

In many groups there is still quite a bit of confusion and what it means for their organization if they get involved with [Michael] Vick.

-- Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States

On Monday, the leaders of several Philadelphia-area groups dedicated to fighting animal cruelty will meet with senior members of the Eagles organization at the team's practice facility in South Philadelphia to discuss if and how they might partner up with Vick, sources involved in those discussions told ESPN.

"There is no guarantee that anybody who goes into that room will be a partner in this," said the co-director of one group who asked not to be identified.

Vick is not scheduled to attend the meeting. The leaders of the groups did not want Vick's appearance to be misinterpreted as their approval of the Eagles' plan for his rehabilitation and reconciliation.

Efforts to reach Pamela Browner-Crawley, the Eagles' senior vice president for public affairs and government relations and the team's point person with the animal rights groups, were unsuccessful.

Vick's guilty plea on charges he bankrolled a dogfighting ring -- and the details of the cruelty to animals documented by prosecutors in their probe of that ring -- have animal rights activists skittish about aligning with him, despite his apologies for his involvement in dogfighting and pledge to help fight it.

"In many groups there is still quite a bit of confusion and what it means for their organization if they get involved with Vick," said Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, which originally signed Vick to help them fight dogfighting nationwide and has held events in Chicago and Atlanta with Vick.

Pacelle said the Humane Society is close to announcing events with Vick in Washington, D.C., and Vick's home state of Virginia, but that an event has yet to be scheduled for Vick in the Philadelphia region.

"These events are not meant for the general public and they may not be made public in advance," said Pacelle, who said a Philadelphia-area event could be planned for next week. "The general public understands that dogfighting is wrong. Our audience is the young urban male who is exposed to this cruelty and to teach him that it is wrong. This is where somebody like Michael can really make a connection and help."

Indeed, it's clear that the Humane Society and other groups, along with the Eagles, are concerned that making big public announcements about Vick's involvement in the community will only be rejected as a public-relations gimmick -- to rehab Vick's image without getting real results.

"There is no intent to conceal," said Pacelle. "We don't want to do this for show."

Still, Vick's involvement will have to be monitored -- by the Eagles, to satisfy Lurie's demands that Vick be "proactive," and by the NFL. Commissioner Roger Goodell is getting daily reports on Vick's progress from members of NFL security, Tony Dungy, who is Vick's assigned mentor, and the Eagles' front office.

All of that is designed to help Goodell make a decision about when to lift Vick's conditional reinstatement. By Week 6 of the 2009 season, Goodell must notify Vick when he can play in a regular-season game.

In the meantime, Vick is eligible to play in the Eagles' third preseason game Thursday against Jacksonville in Philadelphia. He is expected to play.

Eagles coach Andy Reid said Saturday that "right now that's the plan."

Sal Paolantonio covers the NFL for ESPN. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Sal Paolantonio

SportsCenter correspondent / NFL reporter
Sal Paolantonio joined ESPN as a SportsCenter correspondent in August 1995, primarily reporting on the NFL. Beginning in 2004, he also served as host of NFL Match-Up, a weekly "Xs and Os" football show produced by NFL Films.