Stephen A. Smith | It's far too easy and too early to condemn Vick

Posted: July 20, 2007

No one is stupid or amoral enough to condone the alleged cruelty of Michael Vick and his cohorts toward pit bulls.

Think I'm lying? Let anyone with a modicum of decency read Page 17 of the 18-page federal indictment, hear about accusations ranging from hangings and drownings to dousing dogs with water before electrocuting them - then notice that "P-Funk" and "Ookie" are names of the accused - and you can bet there's a tailor somewhere working on the latest prison attire.

Vick is in trouble, people! There is no doubt about it. If he is smart, he already is mapping things out with his attorneys and making sure the only time he is seen in public is at his home taking out the garbage.

Vick is a vagabond now. A man buying time, and in position to afford little else. But while Vick is enduring his own personal hell, stigmatized as every animal-rights group's version of O.J. Simpson, he should not be treated like a felon.

At least not yet, anyway.

If Vick is guilty, he will get what is coming to him. If he played any role in butchering and torturing dogs, he's going to pay a serious price for it. But if there is such a preponderance of evidence, if there's no way for Vick to evade these charges with anything short of the truth, why rush to judgment now before hearing all the evidence? Where is Vick going?

It's amazing that in this great country of ours, at a time when few of us hesitate to heap praise on our soldiers representing us abroad, how convenient it is for us to forget the actual rights they fight to protect.

One of them happens to be: innocent until proven guilty. We were supposed to have learned that from the Duke lacrosse case. Except we haven't learned a thing. Probably because we don't want to.

It seems we can't help but see athletes as guilty any time something happens.

Dogs are tortured. It occurred at a home owned by Vick.

Guilty? Click! Clack!

Yet what about all the other possibilities? In high-profile cases? With overzealous law enforcement officials salivating at the possibility of a high-profile conviction more than anything else?

What if Vick really didn't know what was going on? What if he wasn't around at all, and had never visited the house - contradicting claims by four witnesses, according to the indictment, who are prepared to swear he was seen at the property during dogfights?

Remember, there was an athlete named Allen Iverson who lived in Philadelphia and was well known for lavishing friends and family members with Bentleys, homes, etc., and who wouldn't hesitate to keep things registered in his name even though he didn't drive those cars or frequent those residences.

This is what happens with young-adult athletes allowed to live a kid's life in perpetuity, affording others similar privileges, shielded from the maturation process.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is scheduled to protest outside the National Football League offices in New York this morning. The Humane Society is certainly flexing its muscle. Endorsers will avoid Vick better than he avoids most tackles, as Nike did yesterday, suspending the release of Vick's shoe line scheduled for next month. The Atlanta Falcons may not have any choice but to suspend him themselves.

None of them will contemplate how matters regressed to this point, how Vick could possibly find himself in this situation. Instead, there will be two sides, outside of the feds, sandwiching Vick:

Those trying to convict Vick in the court of public opinion.

And those attempting to avoid the stain it will leave behind.

This is the United States vs. Purnell "P-Funk" Peace, Quanis "Q" Phillips, Tony "T" Taylor, and Michael "Ookie" Vick. A federal case claiming eight dogs were executed, describing Vick as a heinous individual, worthy of our disgust.

Unfortunately, this is not new in the world of athletics. We've heard worse, which only serves to further taint our image of those we have adored. It's understandable why we are so negative, so willing to believe the worst. But that's no excuse to draw conclusions prematurely.

Vick looks guilty as sin. At the moment, no one with sense should bet on his innocence. The hanging and drowning of dogs should have all of us seeking retribution.

But forgive me if deep in my soul I pray that someone so many of us have cheered and celebrated would be incapable of such an atrocity.

If Vick is, indeed, this cruel, then how blind were the rest of us?


Contact columnist Stephen A. Smith at 215-854-5846 or ssmith@phillynews.com.

Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/stephensmith.

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