Clash of protesters over Vick debut? Not rally

Posted: August 28, 2009

ABOUT TWO rings short of a three-ring circus.

That's what the highly anticipated pro- and anti-Michael Vick rallies proved to be last night outside Lincoln Financial Field.

Local NAACP president J. Whyatt Mondesire followed through on a promise to have 20 or 30 people demonstrate in support of the embattled backup quarterback - although Mondesire's troops seemed closer to a dozen in number.

He contended that Vick's quest to rehabilitate his career and image has been met with aggressive, even racist, opposition in the city and on local talk-radio shows.

"A lot of people say he shouldn't be given a second chance," Mondesire said. "We're tired of a one-sided dialogue."

But there was little evidence on display of any opposition to Vick, who served 18 months in a federal prison for his involvement in a dogfighting ring.

Only two groups of people showed up to protest against Vick.

One group, which comprised three young women who held a sign that read "Murderers are not role models," was outnumbered by a cluster of Little League baseball players who stood nearby at Pattison Avenue and 11th Street, trying to raise money for a trip.

"No one else is here, so we came," said one of the women, who declined to be named. "We want parents to explain to their kids what he did."

The other group, gathered at Broad and Pattison, Peter Bentivegna and about eight others held a loosely organized rally in the shadow of a subway station.

Bentivegna brought his dog, Lucky, a pit bull/boxer mix that was rescued from a shelter.

"About 90 percent of the people we've encountered are in support of Michael Vick," he said, while a passing motorist yelled, "Vick is great!"

"We're not just here to express outrage," Bentivegna added. "Our hope is that people will get active in rescuing or adopting dogs."

Meanwhile, scores of Eagles fans - many of whom sported black, white and green Vick jerseys - seemed uninterested in the protests, or the media members who aimlessly paced the sidewalks for much of the evening.

"Am I missing something?" asked longtime fan Frank Miller. "Didn't the Eagles already give him a second chance?"

Miller and his pal Jim Swope sat perched on the back of a pickup truck outside the Linc before the game, each nursing a drink.

"I'm an animal-lover, but I'm glad he's here," Swope said. "He's a great athlete and he did his time. I just don't understand what skin color has to do with it."

But the topic of race was invoked by several pro-Vick demonstrators, including community activist Sacaree Rhodes, of the African Daughters of Fine Lineage.

"I'm a child of the Jim Crow South and I remember very well," said Rhodes, who grew up in Wilmington, N.C., in the 1960s.

"All of this hate speech and this viciousness from these animal-rights people are taking me back to when those white people would let those dogs on us when we were walking to school."

There were few animal-rights activists on hand to respond to comments made by Rhodes and others.

The Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals announced earlier this week that it had no plans to protest Vick outside the Linc.

Instead, the PSPCA held a gathering at its North Philadelphia headquarters to raise money for dogs who are victims of cruelty or dogfighting.

Mondesire acknowledged the lack of boisterous opponents outside the stadium last night.

When a reporter pointed out a white fan in a Vick jersey, Mondesire said: "I'm glad. Look, I'm not condemning all white people. We just felt that we couldn't sit back and allow aggressive opponents to dominate the conversation."

Staff writer Stephanie Farr contributed to this report.

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