West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd trembled with rage on the Senate floor as he lashed out at the barbarity of dog fighting. Byrd, a well-known inveterate animal lover, didn't mention star Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick by name in his animal defending tirade. Vick has been indicted on federal charges linked to gambling and dog fighting. But Massachusetts Senator John Kerry did mention Vick. He demanded that the NFL suspend Vick. There was no hint that they singled out Vick for attack for any reason other than that they were enraged that a high profile athlete had abused animals and thereby sullied sport.
But the Humane Society of America, the legion of animal rights groups, and a handful of sports commentators that want Vick's head skipped the racial subtleties and virtually declared that dog fighting is the "sport" of the ghetto, glorified by rappers, indulged in with bloody relish by gang members, and now by black athletes like Vick.
A Humane Society official flatly declared that dog fighting goes with the gang culture in every urban area. The Chicago Anti-Cruelty Society made the even more fantastic, and equally unsupported, claim that nearly forty percent of primary school children have witnessed or been involved in dog fighting, and that it's a new ghetto rite of passage.
The braid wearing Vick is rich, young, and defiant, and is a tailor made symbol of the spoiled, selfish primma donna black athlete that think and act as if they're above the law. They are the emblem of the greed, selfish, and violence in sport and by extension in American society. The outlaw image of the violence prone, irresponsible black athlete has been drummed into the head of millions of Americans. It's easy then to dump blame for a decade's old flourishing international industry such as dog fighting on the head of a young black man.
Since Vick's indictment the claim that thousands of young black gang members and potential gangsters are bloodying the streets with dogfights has been widely repeated to slam Vick and urban blacks. But there is absolutely no hard evidence to back the claim up. In fact, it hinges on the anecdotal remarks of a handful of police officials in Chicago and a couple of other cities who said that gang members stage dog fight to establish and protect gang and drug turfs.
If Vick did what he's charged by the feds with, and Vick has yet to say anything about the charges, then he deserves to be punished and suspended by the league. Dog fighting is disgusting and as Byrd rightly said barbaric. But the barbarism of dog fighting that Byrd railed against is found in many more places than black urban areas, and is engaged in by thousands who aren't young blacks out to make a rep for themselves by staging fighting matches with rival gang members.
Though banned in all fifty states and many countries, dog fighting is a popular blood sport in dozens of other countries. That includes England, Italy, Australia, South Africa and Canada. It's even legally sanctioned in some countries such as Honduras and Japan. As late at the early 1940s the United Kennel Club endorsed dog fighting, devised sporting rules for the matches and provided referees for the fights. In years past and even today, dog fighting has been a wildly popular "sport" in the South, Midwest and rural areas.
There are at least a dozen magazines that promote dog fighting. One of the most popular, The Sporting Dog, has a circulation in the thousands worldwide. The buying, selling, breeding and training of dogs for fighting has long been a big, popular, and lucrative business, with registries for professional dogfighters and dog fighting trainers. Professional dogfighters invest large sums in training dogs to fight and openly boast that their fighting dogs are of pure lineage. Big bet dog matches are held in posh suburban areas and dog fighting enthusiasts who include athletes, celebrities, and businesspersons wager millions annually on these fights. In some bouts, bets that range upwards from $20, 000 to 30000 are placed. Professional dog fighting then is a big, and expanding international business that's way out of the reach of most poor young blacks.
Vick is as much a victim of the skewed image of dog fighting as lowbrow urban phenomena as he is of his irresponsible, alleged criminal, participation in the business. But if Vick is guilty so are thousands of others that revel in and make big profits from this barbaric "sport." Despite Byrd and Kerry's self-serving ire at Vick, and demand that the NFL give him the boot which is reportedly in the works, dogfight profiteers aren't found solely in poor inner city neighborhoods.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book The Latino Challenge to Black America: Towards a Conversation between African-Americans and Hispanics (Middle Passage Press and Hispanic Economics New York) in English and Spanish will be out in October.