Michael Vick will not be appearing at a Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant in York, Pa. He'd been scheduled to sign autographs there, for $75 each -- photos would be another $75 -- on Oct. 30.
But earlier this week, word got out in the animal advocacy community about the NFL player and convicted dogfighter's event, which led to a lot of angry messages directed at Buffalo Wild Wings. (Here's a sample post on Facebook: "You suck. Your food sucks. Anyone who eats there sucks. And whoever thought liking/ supporting Michale Vick should burn in hell.")
Friday, the restaurant confirmed that Vick was out.
"The event was arranged through a third party and did not follow the proper process or go through appropriate approvals," David Hakensen, a Buffalo Wild Wings spokesperson, said in an email to HuffPost. Hakensen declined to say if the protests influenced the decision, saying that "I believe the statement speaks for itself."
And Gordon Shell, a mostly-retired mixed martial arts fighter from Detroit who now spends his time raising money for and otherwise championing dogs (and selling anti-microbial countertops), couldn't be happier.
Or he could, but only if Michael Vick would finally agree to meet him in a cage.
Shell, who just turned 44, quit MMA last year with more than 20 years of competing under his belt, after being diagnosed with a serious heart condition. Plus, he says, "I just didn't like getting punched in the face anymore."
He's willing to get punched one more time, though, if Vick says yes to what Shell hopes will be a match shown on Pay Per View, that would raise money for animal rescue groups and would also satisfy those who believe the now-Philadelphia Eagles quarterback's jail sentence and fines haven't been punishment enough.
"If you truly want redemption, if you truly want to be free, people want to see you bleed," says Shell. "At the end of the fight, I'm going to grab the microphone, and just announce to all the animal advocates, OK, this man has actually stepped up. We're both bleeding. He's bleeding. He's felt like what it's like to be a dog. Except he's still alive, we haven't electrocuted him. But he's stepped up. Now we have to let him finally be free."
Shell says he understands that this fight is unlikely to happen, while Vick is still employed as a football player (Vick's publicist said a year ago he wanted "no part of it," Shell told one blogger; we've reached out to Vick and haven't yet heard back). But this is not the first time that activists have shut down a Vick appearance. And Shell's hoping that the protests will make enough of an impact on Vick's image and his earnings that once his career is is over as a professional athlete, they'll step in the ring.
"We're America. We don't do an eye for an eye," says Shell. "But we can put him in a cage, regulated. And put on a nice show. We can generate so much money that can help out the abused animals."
Meantime, among his other activities, Shell's selling t-shirts that say "Fight Me Mike Vick":
— Jaime Daughtridge (@banksruption) December 10, 2012
And while Buffalo Wild Wings is now being barraged with thank you notes for canceling the Vick appearance, the Minnesota-based chain hasn't seen the end of its protestors: Second Amendment enthusiasts still have unhappy words, and Facebook pages, about the restaurant's preference toward customers not carrying guns.
Update, Sept. 21, 10:01 a.m.: WHP CBS 21 reports that the promoter of the event that was to have been held at the Buffalo Wild Wings, JJ Cards N Toys, may reschedule the signing another venue -- despite the family that owns JJ Cards receiving death threats for associating with Vick.
"The message was, 'I wish your wife and kids would die,'" JJ Cards' co-owner Jamie Bartolo told the station.
Some 70 people had already purchased tickets, Bartola said, telling CBS 21 that she considers the threats to be a type of "cyber bullying" and would decide next week whether to change venues for the Vick event or call the event off entirely.
Update, Sept. 22, 8 a.m.: This story has gotten odder, if you can believe it. Over the weekend, JJ Cards' co-owner Joe Bartolo told the York Daily Record that "we are definitely going to have the signing."
The company, though, was planning to take a couple of measures to reduce the amount of publicity:
The location will be released on Monday or Tuesday to customers on the store's email list but will not be announced on social media accounts.
"Until then, we do not want people talking about it," Bartolo said.
The event might be promoted as an event with Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson instead of a Michael Vick event so that it does not garner as much national attention, he said.
But Vick's spokesperson, Chris Shigas, emailed HuffPost on Saturday to tell us that despite the death threats, the secrecy and the challenges to meet for a fight in a cage, Vick had never been scheduled to sign autographs in York on Oct. 31 to begin with.
"Michael never scheduled an autograph event at a Buffalo Wild Wings. In fact, Michael was never presented any proposal or agreement to attend any autograph session in October," Shigas said. "Michael is not aware of this event and does not have any agreement or proposal regarding this event."
(Asked if Vick would consider Shell's challenge to meet in the ring for a mixed martial arts fight, Shigas said "I can't comment on any threat by someone to fight him, but I can tell you that Michael is preparing for the Denver Broncos.")
We asked JJ Cards, meanwhile, to respond to Shigas' comment about the Vick event. If you're sensitive to salty language, don't read the reply.
"We have nothing to say," was the unsigned email response. "The media has blown this all out of proportion and social media has put us at risk of harm! Half of the shit all the media outlets is wrong."
We've asked for more clarification, to find out what was wrong in previous media reports -- and for some explanation as to whether Vick was, indeed, ever scheduled to sign autographs in York. We'll update this piece when we have more information.
Update, Sept. 22, 11:01 p.m.: We asked JJ Cards to respond to Vick's spokesperson's statement. Here's the unsigned email from JJ Cards we received in response:
We had an agreement with a third party who was bringing him in all we were doing was selling tix and helping promote the event. Nnow all we are doing is getting negative,hateful, hurtful and threatening comments towards our family . So since you and everyone that has reported this event, it is not and never going to happen, so leave us alone now
A previous version of this story said that the signing was originally scheduled for Oct. 31. JJ Cards emailed to let us know that the signing had been scheduled for Oct. 30.
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