Six years after a federal judge sentenced Michael Vick to prison for running an illegal dog-fighting ring, some fans still harbor anger and hatred toward the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback. Vick was planning to sign autographs in York, Pa., this week, but the event was canceled when Joe Bartolo, owner of JJ Cards-N-Toys and the event’s host, received thousands of online death threats directed at him and his family.
“I’m a dog lover and an animal person,” said Bartolo, who had to shut down his store’s Facebook page because of the threats. “I know what he did was wrong, and he served his time in prison. You need to give a person a second chance is our philosophy in life.”
This is not the first time an event featuring Vick has been called off due to death threats. Earlier this year, book-signing events in Philadelphia and Atlanta were canceled when organizers and Vick received death threats—mostly posted online.
After serving 18 months in federal prison, Vick has worked to clean up his image and earn the forgiveness of fans, including admitting his guilt, apologizing for his crimes, donating money to Philadelphia charities, and working with animal-rights groups to end dog-fighting. He led the way in publicly offering forgiveness to teammate Riley Cooper earlier this year after Cooper used a racial slur at a concert.
Vick, 33, has also professed a rediscovered faith in Christ, saying in 2010 that “God has taken [my life] over.”
Yet many fans have not forgotten the gruesome details of animal abuse and torture unveiled by state and federal investigators in 2007. The images of the wounded dogs still circulate online, fueling anger toward Vick.
Forgiveness does not mean forgetting. Vick’s crimes should not be forgotten—animal cruelty is a real issue and his involvement with animals should be monitored. But when fans use Vick’s sins to vindicate their own, perhaps forgiveness is the only option.