Animal Rights

Michael Vick's Base Offense

Illegal gambling re-emerges as a threat to America's sporting culture


West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd (D) thundered from the floor of the Senate, "Barbaric! Barbaric! Barbaric!"

The former Klansman was reacting to the 19-page federal indictment of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick on charges of staging and betting on dog fights up and down the East Coast. The charges detailed brutal treatment of the dogs by partners in Vick's Bad Newz Kennels, including culling weak fighters via gunshot or electrocution. Vick faces six years in prison and makes his first court appearance on Thursday.

The alleged abuse of the animals has understandably driven public comment and media attention. However, the NFL can sustain the substantial PR hit that would accompany a court case portraying one of its biggest stars as a closet sadist. A bigger problem for the integrity of the league is the possibly that Vick was a principal in an illegal gambling operation for the past six years.

On cue, as if to underscore this continual tension between sports betting and the sports the betting public loves, comes a parallel scandal involving an NBA referee. The FBI is investigating veteran ref Tom Donaghy, who is under suspicion of betting on NBA games, including ones he officiated.

Donaghy reportedly racked up large gambling debts at Atlantic City casinos, making him a classic target for a "reach out" from mobbed-up bookies. This is more or less the traditional mode for criminal infiltration of legitimate sporting leagues.

The sensitivity to even the perception that gambling interests might influence either an official or a player have long motivated league officials to try to wall-off their operations from any kind of betting. There is reason booming Las Vegas does not have a major league franchise. The NBA, in particular, has shied away immersing its impressionable young millionaires in the gaming culture there.

Elsewhere, even among dedicated gamers, betting on your own league is the bright-line virtually all athletes and coaches instinctively respect. Once that threshold is breached, it is far too easy for organized crime to ensnare an active player/coach gambler, perhaps merely by threatening to expose the activity and claim it influenced on-the-field performance. Leagues understandably want no part of trying to prove otherwise and have long imposed harsh penalties for dallying with gambling.

In 1963 Paul Hornung and Alex Karras, two of the NFL's biggest stars at the time, were suspended for a year from the league merely for associating with the wrong type of people at a bar owned by Karras. That and betting on NFL games. And it is Pete Rose's penchant for betting on baseball games, and then refusing to admit he had done so when questioned by league officials that has kept him out of the baseball Hall of Fame thus far—and perhaps forever.

Vick, if government claims are true, has by-passed gambling debts and mobbed-up bookies to go straight to running his own illegal gambling operation. Violence, gunplay, and secretive cash deals being part-and-parcel of the scene. To read the indictment, you would have no idea Vick signed a 10-year, $130-million contract a couple years ago. Government witnesses place him at dogfights in Virginia and the Carolinas hustling for $3000 here, $13,000 there.

The obvious question of motivation pops up, not just in a legal sense. On the face of it, running a Third World dog fighting operation near his hometown must have been as important to Vick as being an NFL star. His football career certainly now hangs in the balance as a result of his choice of associates, and he is likely to leave his team in the lurch for this season as his trial unfolds. Veteran lawyer and journalist Lester Munson has already declared that the media and legal circus around Vick will rival that of the O.J. Simpson trial.

But back to motive. Did Vick's dual lives ever collide? Prosecutors claim Vick lost a net of about $15,000 on his dog fights. Did he ever try to re-coup that by betting on NFL games, and if not, why not? I guarantee league officials have wondered about that question in recent weeks and shuddered about the potential answers.

Shuddered because the massive multi-billion dollar popularity of the NFL and the NBA and MLB rest actually rest on a very narrow premise: That the audience knows the score. That players and coaches are doing their very best to win at all times, and have no outside motivation to rival that goal. Anything else is a fraud, a breach of contract between spectator and participant.

The charges against Vick, at a minimum, remind us that we really do not know our sports heroes as well as we like to think. As the case moves forward, we come to find out that we do not know them at all.

Jeff Taylor writes from North Carolina.

NEXT: There's Too Much Confusion

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  1. Forgive me if I just don’t care.The NFL and NBA both use the NCAA as a free minor league,even mandating participation.Owners shake down taxpayers for stadiums and parking.I lost respect years ago.

  2. Of greater concern is the fact that Vick isn’t a well-rounded QB. He’s a glorified Kordell Stewart.

  3. If I bet that Vick will never be convicted of anything for this, would that be considered sports betting?


  4. I think part of the problem Max is that NFL coaches are never creative enough to use Vick. Vick is five times the player that Stewart was, but he is not a drop back passer. For some reason, NFL coachs are some of the least creative people on earth. They keep trying to stick Vick into a “West Coast” offense built on accuracy and timing, two things Vick doesn’t have, instead of running a spread offense that lets him roll out get into space, use his legs and just throw to the open man rahter than running complicated timing routs that Vick will never master. Sadly, I think former college coach Bobby Patrino might have been able to use Vick’s skills but since Vick has been revealed to be a dog killer we will never know.

    I was kind of hoping Vick would play if for no other reason than the great “Who Let the Dogs Out” mixes that opposing stadiums would play every time he touched the ball. You could mix in a sound bite from National Lampoon’s Vacation where Imma Gene Coca yells at Chevy Chase “Dog Killer!”

  5. Cracker,

    You really are a dumb cracker if you take that bet. Vick is going down. Short of molesting children I can’t think of anything he could have done that would have brought him more distain than torturing dogs. The humaine society types have been trying to get a high profile conviction in dog fighting for years and now dumb ass has given them their chance. The dude was running what amounted to the Madison Square Garden of dog fighting on his farm, the neighbors all say he was there frequently (not like he is some unknown), and they have other people in the ring who have turned states evidence against him. Give it a month or so and his co-defendents will be rolling on him as well. I think Mike needs to make his reservations for the bar hotel.

  6. Plus Vick didn’t start crying on the side of the field like Stewart.

    I am a die-hard Steelers fan, and I currently use my ol’ #10 jersey as a jiz-rag.

  7. I just hope this doesn’t draw heat on the toy dog fighting ring I run out of my Mom’s basement. There’s no explaining a chiuaua rape stand. Damn ASPCA doesn’t understand my culture. Racists.

  8. With the new commissioner gunning for incidents like this, I suspect there’s a good chance Vick won’t play. even without a conviction, he will probably be suspended for the year.

    Another factor is – is there a morality clause in Vick’s contract? If the Falcons / Blank would not have to pay Vick if they got rid of him, they’re much less likely to fight to keep him on board.

    I am a die-hard Steelers fan… Isn’t that a redundancy?

  9. Another factor is – is there a morality clause in Vick’s contract? If the Falcons / Blank would not have to pay Vick if they got rid of him, they’re much less likely to fight to keep him on board.

    The Falcons can release him at any time. NFL contracts aren’t guaranteed the MLB and NBA contracts are. The only thing they’d lose is the signing bonus(which also counts against the salary cap for the next few years and would hinder their ability to sign a replacement).

  10. They are saying on ESPN this morning that the Commissioner has ordered Vick not to report to camp. They are saying now that the Falcons may just release him. I don’t think he will ever play again. Dogs are like kids in this society. Moreover, he is a quarterback and thus the face of any franchise he plays for. I can’t imagine any team signing him unless this turns into another Duke rape case and he is obviously innocent.

  11. David,

    The morals clause might allow the Falcons to sue and get their signing bonus back. They could do more than just cut him, which you correctly point out they can do at anytime.

  12. John,

    The Dallas Cowboys have no problem signing pompous assholes, they’ll pick Vick up.

  13. The cowboys have also had several drug runners (Nate Newton, Bob Hayes) and a guy who exposed himself to young girls (Lance Rentzel) but even the Cowboys have never had a dog killer.

  14. Taylor asks if Vick’s loss of $15k might have triggered betting on other games (possibly NFL games.) At Vick’s salary, losing $15k is like you or I losing a c-note…Vick’s not even going to think twice about $15k…

    …The relatively low stakes (for Vick) highlights that the sadistic/thug culture aspect of dogfighting was the attraction.

  15. This just shows how money does nothing for ones mentality. He and his brother were both set and his brother pissed it away before he even got it. You always here about the kids who’s only hope of escaping the ghetto is through sports. This is just a prime example of how you can take someone out of the ghetto but you might not be able to take the ghetto out of them. Same thing for Maurice Clements at Ohio, pissed it all away being thug man.

    I do not see why anyone would want their kids to look to sports jocks.

    Vick was not all that an no coach was going to help a QUARTERBACK that can’t pass the ball. Thats why they have running backs, thus the word run. Once the other team realizes A)your always going to run and B) If you throw it your not likely to hit the receiver your game is done. That is why he has fallen by the wayside as some great player, he does not have all the facets to play QB. How many multi superbowl winner QB’s couldn’t run worth a shit? How many superbowls have running QB’s won? Not that any of this matters of course lol.

  16. I don’t think Vick’s problem is coaching. He’s inconsistent and generally inaccurate. When he was allowed to roam free, he did fine against terrible defenses, then got -10 QB ratings against any team with a halfway decent defense. When he played Tampa back then, he was simply Unrated.

  17. David,

    The morals clause might allow the Falcons to sue and get their signing bonus back. They could do more than just cut him, which you correctly point out they can do at anytime.

    They might be able to sue to get the signing bonus back, but I think they face a different set of circumstances than the Dolphins did with Ricky Williams. Since teams use the signing bonus as the guaranteed portion of a contract, it might be difficult to demonstrate that they should be allowed to terminate the agreement and get the money back, unless the contract specifically allows it. I think the NFLPA would fight tooth and nail to prevent that precedent from being set.

  18. thing for Maurice Clements at Ohio

    Maurice Clarett at Ohio State???

  19. Say it ain’t so, Ron Mexico, say it ain’t so.

  20. Probably so David. The Falcons are so screwed. I live in Atlanta. Inner city Atlanta is predominately black and poor and Vick is their guy. With this city’s racial history, it was a huge deal to get a black quarterback starting for the Falcons. Vick will always have a huge number of supporters in the black community who will look at this rightly or wrongly as the man putting down another successful black man. Suburban Atlanta is full of rick white people with the Labradoodles, pedigreed dogs and pound hounds. Those people will never forgive Vick for this and never have anything to do with the Falcons as long as they are associated with Vick. Then there is redneck rural Georgia who never liked Vick anyway because he has made so secret about the fact that he is ghetto fabulous through and through. No matter what the Falcons do, they are going to alienate a large portion of their fan base. Vick really screwed them. One of my wife’s co-workers worked for the Falcons up until last fall and says that Vick is dumb as a post, has a “posse” of about 20 deadbeats that he refuses to get rid of, and never took one piece of advice the Falcons gave him. There were apparently a lot of people in the organization who thought that giving him a $37 million signing bonus would end badly.

  21. 1)This has next to nothing to do with gambling. This is all about abusing animals. If the league uses it’s prohibitions against gambling to sanction him, it’s mere convince.

    Most spots fans gamble. If an athlete gambles, it’s a rules violation, not a crime. But fans and non-fans alike are all disgusted by the descriptions of abuse. It’s all about the dogs.

    2) Pete Rose belongs in the HOF. It’s bullshit to keep him out because he “bet on baseball”. It’s a violation of the rules sure, but he’s paid many times over for whatever supposed damage he did to the reputation of the game. OTOH his contributions to the game, especially as a player but also as a coach, are singular. Failing to recognize his career turns the HOF into a political tool.

  22. One question that doesn’t seem to have been asked much in the media thus far is this: how did the Atlanta Falcons (and the NFL for that matter) not know what was going on with Vick? And if they did, why did they look the other way?

    I agree with those who say that Vick should never play in the NFL again. But I do see this as being similar to the Barry Bonds situation in baseball, where the league and the media come down hard on one guy out of many after ignoring the problem for years.

  23. One question that doesn’t seem to have been asked much in the media thus far is this: how did the Atlanta Falcons (and the NFL for that matter) not know what was going on with Vick?

    That depends on how closely you think the NFL or the Falcons should be monitoring what their players do when they’re not at work. I assume that like most employers, they only investigate when there’s evidence of a problem. Besides, there’s probably very little conversation between dog-fighting enthusiasts(who all know it’s illegal) and those in positions of power in the NFL.

  24. That depends on how closely you think the NFL or the Falcons should be monitoring what their players do when they’re not at work.

    What I’m getting at is that the Falcons probably didn’t have to monitor Vick that closely to realize that he was involved in dogfighting. I mean, the guy had a pit bull kennel with a website that identified it as Vick’s!

    Also, it’s well known that NFL teams do a pretty thorough background check on players before they agree to pay them millions of dollars…I can almost see owner Arthur Blank saying “I’m shocked…shocked to hear that Vick was into dogfighting!”

  25. Yeah that Maurice the Ohio St. dumbass. Isn’t he in jail right now?

    Things like this point to the big differences in racial cultures. Just as with OJ now its with Vick it appears. Most whites would out someone of such character no natter what their race (with the exception of Poiticians, Police or Priests). Where blacks seem to be able to look past just about anything so long as it can bemade to appear whitey is the only reason for their troubles. Time and time again at the college and pro level you see people going out of their way to cover up and clean up some jocks problems just so they can keep playing with balls. Anyone else doing the same things as a regular student would be shit on and cast out of school or work so quick it would be dizzying and likely never based on a long investigation of the facts as they seem to always want to do with “high profile,” criminal atheletes and others.

    One side of society has to prove their innocence while the other side gets it proven for them no matter what the cost. But what can we say we created these monsters and until we knock them down a few hundred levels they will continue to feel privilaged to do as they please. What makes sports fans so loyal to a bunch of players that would sell your team out for te next highest bidder and owners that want to milk the public for a place to make their money (stadiums)? I don’t get it myself. Watching million dollar cry babies complain just takes the cake. I would be willing to be 99.999999999999999% of all pro sports players could not make more money or even close to what they make doing anything else for a living. Perhaps they need a employment change to remind them of that.

  26. The Dallas Cowboys have no problem signing pompous assholes, they’ll pick Vick up.

    TO may be a pompous asshole, but he has never been implicated in anything illegal. Comparing him to Vick is retarded.

    What makes sports fans so loyal to a bunch of players that would sell your team out for te next highest bidder and owners that want to milk the public for a place to make their money (stadiums)? I don’t get it myself.

    I like watching great athletes perform. That’s it. It be great if some were nicer people. (A lot of them are, they just don’t make the news.) But, as long as they aren’t hurting people or animals I could give a crap what they do off the field. It be nice if they were more loyal, but bitching about the economic dynamics of sports today is a waste of time. As a libertarian leaner I have a hard time getting pissed at guys for taking advantage of a free market.

  27. To paraphrase Dee:

    “Mreh Mreh Mreh, uppity sagroes*, mreh mreh, put ’em in their place, mreh mreh mreh”

    *See previous threads about one word being “dead” and how people wear their pants.

  28. Lil Cheney — ummm WTF speak english please.

    Matt J- I have no problem with you enjoying watching people play sports and I agree who can fault the players for taking advantage of the current situation to make all they can. the problem I have is that I do not care to watch them and I do not feel I should be forced to finance their facilities. If they are indeed so valued and cherished then those that go to the games should pay for the stadium as well as the salaries of the players. It is sickening to see people who make that much demanding others finance their playing field on which they make their money. Shouldn’t they build it as a tax write off for cost of doing business instead of a tax increase so they can continue to do business?

  29. Dee,

    You’ll get no argument from me about the stupidity of public funding for stadiums.

  30. This is only tangentially related, but I’m surprised at how many people claim not to be surprised by the NBA officiating scandal. Seems like in 2002, when I gave up the NBA forever because I got tired of watching pre-determined outcomes, all I heard was “you can’t honestly believe all that conspiracy crap.” After the Kings/Lakers game6, Ric Bucher wrote an article on dedicated not to claiming that the officiating wasn’t bad, nor to claim that it was an isolated incident, but to specifically mock those who felt that it might have been indicative of a larger problem.

    So now all of a sudden, no one’s surprised, huh? Screw you, MSM. Especially ESPN for pretending that you saw this coming when you were the biggest denier not named Stern for the last 10 years.

  31. As a libertarian leaner I have a hard time getting pissed at guys for taking advantage of a free market.

    As a libertarian leaner, I find football and basketball are in far too much control of the authorities (the referees) who can call a foul or penalty on every play and therefore have far too much control over the outcome of the game. And these are the sports that have the most gambling interest.

  32. interesting question. What is the most libertarian sport?

    Hockey maybe? Most of the rules are predicated on protecting the individual, it’s largely self policed and it’s seen as a fringe sport only a few die-hard nuts care about.

  33. I agree Damar. For me the NBA ended with the famous Jordan push off against Byron Russell in the 1998 finals. What bothered me was not so much that it was a terrible call, bad calls happen in all sports, but that no one seemed to care. All that mattered was Jordan hitting the winning shot to end his career. The fact that he pushed off didn’t seem to matter to the league or the fans. That is just WWF. Who cares about the rules, it is all about the script and if the rules get in the way of the script then the rules go.

    The NBA sold its soul to Micheal Jordan. In the 1990s he bacame bigger than the game. Since it was all about Jordan, then the refs stopped calling fouls fairly. Worse yet, the Jordan system produced the “star system” which gave us refs giving every break to star players and clowns on ESPN saying how fouls shouldn’t be called in key situations or star players shouldn’t ever be put in foul trouble “because the fans pay to see the stars not the refs”. Well that is great but whatever happened to the integrity of the game? Back in the day, Wilt Chamberlain going an entire career without fouling out was a big deal because the refs actually called the games fairly and star players fouled out sometimes. Now, I can’t remember the last time a name player in a key game ever got in foul trouble. That is one of the reasons why USA basketball sucks so bad; we have a generation of star players who only know how to play if the refs help them. Watch LaBron James in international play sometime. It is pathetic. He does nothing but charge in the lane expecting the refs to bail him out with a foul like they do in the NBA and the international refs just look at him and call a foul on him or let him turn the ball over.

    Did all of that cause this guy to go bad? No. But the fact that everyone expects bad and biased officiating allowed him to get away with it.

  34. I agree with everything John just said. I didn’t give up the NBA for a few years after him because it’s one thing to see the Jazz or the Sonics get screwed (meh) and it’s another thing to see YOUR team (Sacramento in my case) get screwed. Making it personal made me finally give it up. But I had know it was fixed for 6-8 years before that.

  35. “had known”

  36. I, too, long ago rejected the NBA. And I used to watch it in the 70s, when no one else watched.

  37. The NBA was much better when Virginia Postrel was the editor.

  38. joe,

    Yeah, that’s for sure. So was baseball. I recently learned that Nick instituted the designated hitter rule.


  39. In other SPORTING NEWS

    the best part is the guy’s hat.

  40. While Jerry Jones has been known to put less than stellar personalities on the payroll. I’d have to disagree that Vick would end up in Dallas, or make a good fit if he did. The obvious answer to Vick’s dilemma is the Raiders. Shame on all you here who claim to be football fans. lol

  41. The Raiders are appropriate for Vick, definitely. It’s become a home for losers that nobody else wants. Vick was a loser even before all this went down. He will still be a loser no matter what the jury says.

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