THERE'S an old saying that goes like this: If you want a friend, get a dog. In the case of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, the advice comes too late.
In papers filed Friday in federal court in Richmond, Va., Vick has admitted guilt in the killing of at least six dogs in April and for funding a dogfighting operation based in one of his rural Virginia homes.
After initially denying any involvement or knowledge of the activity on his property, Vick was prompted to cooperate because three of his oldest friends had agreed to testify against him in exchange for lesser charges in their own dogfighting cases.
For pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to traffic in an interstate animal fighting venture, Vick could be punished with up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Even if he never serves a day behind bars, the former No. 1 draft pick has suffered an enormous loss of personal and professional prestige by engaging in a blood sport.
Estimates are that Vick has lost as much as $80 million in product endorsements. To his credit, National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell has suspended Vick indefinitely without pay. His $110 million contract with the Falcons looks to be very much in jeopardy.
For his part, Vick admits that he personally executed "under performing" dogs by electrocuting, drowning, and hanging them after fights. In a macabre attempt to demonstrate he isn't completely amoral, he denies ever betting on the reprehensible sports he sponsored or pocketing money from those battles. When it comes to profiting from these evil events, it's nice to know that even a confessed sadist has "standards."
Appalling acts of brutality against animals aren't new. What shocks the conscience in this case is that one of the most talented and well-compensated athletes of his generation was willing to exchange his humanity - and a life that was set - for cheap, bloody thrills.
Doubly frightening is the realization that a culture of dogfighting exists in America's under-class that has gone unnoticed by the mainstream. As this once-impoverished athlete became wealthy, he didn't necessarily shed his fondness for the blood sport that he knew from an earlier day.
The vilification of the fallen NFL star won't stop dogfighting in America, but it will put the fear of prosecution into many an animal abuser's heart.
Even McGruff the Crime Dog will settle for that.