Morning Edition, August 8, 2007 · "There has been some muted protest that Michael Vick has been suspended too precipitously by the National Football League and unfairly stripped of his rich endorsements, before the indictments against him for dogfighting and dog-killing could be settled in court.
However, given the heinous charges against Vick, it is difficult to imagine any public company — yours, for example? — that would blithely keep such an employee till the government had gotten round to working things out with him.
The presumption of innocence may be one of the most hallowed tenets of our justice system. But let's face it, in an informed society — most especially where details are well publicized — citizens of good will will arrive at their own conclusions. Sometimes, of course, these assumptions will run wild. In sport, we have no further to look than the notorious Duke lacrosse case. But, then, as the presumption of innocence is a final safeguard, the presumption of shame is a precipitate reality that public figures must take into account when they choose to misbehave.
And Vick's infamy has at least put the spotlight on the loathsome business of dog-fighting. Who knew that the Humane Society estimates that there are as many as 40,000 Americans who fight dogs? And there are, too, other animal torture amusements in this country that, lacking a celebrity to spotlight them, actually remain legal in many states.
For example, are you familiar with something called "canned hunting?" This is fun for that greatest of oxymorons — sportsmen. These are hunters who go to what are called, yes, "shooting preserves." There, animals are conveniently penned in for paying customers with a "no-kill, no-pay" guarantee, so they can be "sure shot" at close range. Fish in a barrel. Many of the technically wild animals are actually semi-tame, used to humans who feed them. They see a truck approaching, they think it's the feed wagon, they come closer, and the paying sportsman blasts away.
Only about half our states have any restrictions against canned hunting. There are about 1,000 shooting preserves in the U.S. — 500 alone in the great state of Texas.
Or, if you're a sportsman too busy to actually leave your comfortable home to kill a defenseless animal, Internet hunting is just for you. It's easy. You go online and are connected to a shooting preserve that may be hundreds of miles away, where you see your prey before you. You zero in on the target on your computer screen and touch a button that activates a gun that blows away the unsuspecting, docile animal. The trophy head will be shipped to you, you brave, big-game hunter, for display on your wall.
Sixteen states have no strictures against Internet hunting. One of them is the great state of Georgia, where so many citizens have been upset that the accused dog-slaughterer Vick plays for their Atlanta Falcons.
I'm personally revulsed by Michael Vick, but the sad fact is that, in the animal-cruelty business, he shares company with a lot of other distinguished American sportsmen."
To listen to Frank Deford's essay, "Beyond Vick: Animal Cruelty for Sport" visit: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=12568999
If you agree with Mr. Deford's comments, let him know. Frank Deford's "Sweetness and Light" column takes comments at: http://www.npr.org/templates/contact/index.php?columnId=4499275