Media too quick to convict Vick   

Updated: July 31, 2007, 6:42 PM ET

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The e-mail in-box has been exploding:

    I just saw your interview in the Michael Vick dogfighting piece. Good job by you perpetuating the stupid Southern redneck stereotype. I was born and raised in Connecticut, but have lived in Western Florida for more than eight years. It is beyond insulting to me that you determined dogfighting is common in the South and therefore, no big deal. Hey, it's just what people know how to do, right? No, it is not what people in the South know how to do. Maybe people who are devoid of all decency, capable of turning a blind eye to vicious cruelty, and generally think themselves above the law. That description does not pertain to a single Southerner that I know. So please stop with the "Well, it's OK in the South" nonsense, because it is most definitely NOT, and there is NO excuse for dogfighting, no matter who may be involved.
    -- Judi, Pace, Fla.

    Your piece on "Outside the Lines" made me sick. You were not defending Vick, you were defending dogfighting. Really? How long are you going to be getting away with Southern black culture as an excuse for blatant ignorance? I know you are playing a role on TV. You may think you are the hero of everything black, but try to be a human first.
    -- Zach, Las Vegas

    To hear you equate speeding and dogfighting with Michael Vick on "OTL" is absurd! Why was his race brought into it? Dogfighting is illegal, no matter what race you are. Then you mention the slavery angle, come on, please! Blame everything on slavery. Bottom line, Michael Vick or no Michael Vick, dogfighting is illegal and somebody in his position, as a role model to kids, needs to act like one. As for you, I wonder how you can be an award-winning writer. Get a clue!
    -- Patrick (no city)

    Were you the only one around to accept the job of defending Vick, and you had to say something? Or is that really your position? It's the culture he grew up with? You've got to be kidding me. I can't wait to hear anybody arrested for murder in a gang-related offense use that as an excuse for their behavior -- that's the culture I grew up with so this little murder-thingy should be excused.
    -- John F. (no city)

    Scoop, during your recent video post regarding conspiracy theories, you touched on the Michael Vick situation. I was somewhat disturbed that you left the impression that it isn't a crime that should be punishable by jail time. I wish you would expand on this a little further and give your stance outright.
    -- Danny, Neptune Beach, Fla.
Ever had to explain yourself to a nation?

Michael Vick

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Michael Vick's image has taken a beating this offseason.

In the case of Michael Vick and the investigation of his involvement with dogfighting, there seems to be a sense of misunderstanding of where I stand on the situation.

(Note: On "OTL," I was asked a question about the relationship between athletes and dogfighting. I said that the relationship is more about "regionality" and dogs than athletics and dogs. Nothing about color or class. But somehow that got lost in the translation.)

So, without sounding like an "apologist" for Vick or someone who doesn't understand the cruelty of dogfighting or Clinton Portis, there is something that needs to be said in defense of Michael Vick … regardless of whether or not he is guilty.

It has happened before, a case being tried in the media. It happened not long ago. And even though the members of the Duke lacrosse team were not guilty of the crime they were accused of, the rush to judgment put on them by law enforcement and media members was just as wrong as the accusations made by the stripper.

That said, what shouldn't happen to Vick is happening. Before our eyes, as the evidence mounts against him, as Sports Illustrated says "seeing Vick implicated in a dog fighting case would be like landing the great white whale" for animal rights groups, as ESPN's Kelly Naqi interviews undercover informants who claim to have seen Vick at fights and whose dog beat one of Vick's dogs seven years ago, one of the marquee players in the NFL is being found guilty by way of the media. Before any conviction, before an official indictment, before an investigation is complete. Michael Vick: Guilty … without ever saying the word.

The problem here, to me, is in the rush. The rush by all of those who want to make this a story of name only -- not a story of crime. "Michael Vick this; Michael Vick that." No one is actually saying it, but we know. We know where everyone wants this to lead and what they want it to lead to. Society has a way of wanting -- almost needing -- to see the worst happen to those who have something: the Duke athletes had privilege, mark them guilty; Vick has fame and money, do the same.

"What is foreign to me is the federal government getting into a dogfighting case," Surry County (Va.) commonwealth's attorney Gerald Poindexter said last week after the FBI basically took over the investigation. "I know it has been done, but what's driving this? Is it this boy's celebrity? Would they have done this if it wasn't Michael Vick? Apparently these people want it. They want Michael Vick."

Did we not learn anything from the case in Durham, N.C.? Did we not find that the "villains" in a case aren't always who they appear to be? Judging by how the Vick case is being played out publicly, it seems the answer would be no. We haven't learned anything. Apparently, it's still more important to build a case against someone in public than to worry about what the case is really about.

And this case should be about dogfighting, not Vick.

Much like the O.J. Simpson case should have been about the wrongs of domestic violence and murder. Much like the Don Imus controversy should have been about wrongs of insensitive language and broadcast rights. Much like the Duke case should have been about the wrongs of sexual abuse.

The case against Vick should be about animal cruelty -- but it's not. That doesn't seem to be the focus.

Blame it on an overzealous media seeking to attach Vick's name to something. Think about how big a deal was made of the "water bottle incident" at the airport a few months ago. Vick claimed there was nothing in the bottle, that the whole situation was a misunderstanding. Does anyone really think the coverage of that situation -- from what was initially reported to how it was covered when Vick was later exonerated -- was even remotely balanced?

Then there's the investigator of the Virginia Animal Fighting Task Force, an animal control officer with 22 years of service, who was quoted after the property search of the Vick-owned house as saying, "We got him. We got Michael Vick." That's enough to make you wonder what's of most importance: Stopping a subculture of animal brutality or "nabbing" a superstar whose name happens to be Michael Vick?

Now, maybe I personally did a bad job of expressing all this on "OTL." Maybe I came across as someone who thought this was not a big deal or something unworthy of attention or concern. Not so. What I was trying to do -- still trying to do -- was put the Vick situation into some perspective. Into the perspective of other things that are happening around us, other things that happen inside other "illegal" subcultures that go undiscussed, other things that are happening to other athletes. Especially athletes in the NFL.

Will Vick come away not guilty as the Duke lacrosse team did? Probably not. But until he is found guilty, we in the media shouldn't be the ones dictating the direction and verdict of the case. And even though I might be wrong, I won't digress. If anyone was or is serious about stopping the subculture of dogfighting in America, an investigation would have been done long before the authorities "accidentally stumbled" across this information while on Moonlight Road raiding a house in a search for drugs.

This shouldn't be about Vick, even if he's guilty. But it is. The story and coverage should be about the dogs and the circumstances surrounding dogfighting.

But it's not. All I'm trying to do is put this in perspective, write my wrong. Because in this world we live in today, it seems like the "I'd rather be judged by 12 than carried by six" saying holds no weight. Seems like the jury has gotten a whole lot bigger.

Scoop Jackson is a columnist for Page 2 and a contributor to ESPN The Magazine. He's also the host of ESPN Original Entertainment's "NBA Live: Bring It Home". Sound off to Scoop here.



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