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Americans were finally forced to face the issue of animal abuse and professional athletes when investigators discovered 66 pit bulls, in addition to dog fighting equipment, at a home owned by "pro football's most electrifying quarterback." Although Michael Vick insisted he did not live in the house, and initially denied knowledge of any such activity on his Virginia property, stories of his involvement continued to swirl around the Atlanta Falcons' franchise player. On July 17, 2007, Vick and three others were indicted by a federal grand jury for competitive dog fighting, procuring and training pit bulls for fighting, and conducting an illegal enterprise across state lines. On August 27, 2007, Vick pled guilty to one count of conspiracy. Shortly thereafter, Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Vick from the NFL indefinitely and without pay. Approximately a month after the federal guilty plea, a Surry County (Virginia) grand jury indicted Vick on one count of "conspiracy to travel in interstate commerce in aid of unlawful activities and to sponsor a dog in an animal fighting venture." His jury trial, originally scheduled for April 2, 2008, had to be delayed until June 27 because of the difficulty of transporting federal prisoners back to the state to face charges. While Vick is probably the most famous sports figure to have been accused and/or convicted of fighting dogs, sadly there are many others who also participate. Nevertheless, the issue of players abusing animals has almost escaped discussion, or even notice, in law reviews. To fill the gap, this article grapples with important questions concerning athletes involved in illegal dog fighting. Part II includes a brief history, description, and analysis of dog fighting. Part III reviews relevant laws including the recently enacted federal Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act. However, despite the fact that the underlying reasons to criminalize the conduct are the same no matter who causes the harm, it appears that the legal system may treat professional athletes differently than others who fail to properly protect and care for dogs, cats, and other domesticated critters. If true, this means it is even more important that professional sports leagues step in and punish participants in these illegal competitions. Part IV provides examples of sports figures who exploit or otherwise injure dogs through training them, and forcing them, to fight. While no appellate decisions exist yet, this section reviews a number of incidents reported in the media. Finally, in seeking to fashion a just and fair response, Part V proposes a concrete solution that will not only punish the guilty player for his criminal acts, and his team if they knew about the problem and allowed him to continue on the field or court, but will also benefit the real victims, the animals.


This article was originally published in the Journal of Animal Law and Ethics of the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

An electronic copy of the article has been made available in this electronic Repository with permission from the author(s) under the doctrine of fair use for nonprofit educational purposes.

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