SPORTS: Killing animals for sport isn't right-or uncommon

August 27, 2007

On an August afternoon in 1992, while covering the Olympic Games in Barcelona for the local daily, several of us decided we needed to experience a slice of authentic Spanish culture.

So we journeyed to a bullfight.

I could offer a lengthy narrative, but I'll provide the abridged version. The bulls are lanced several times by men on horseback. The subsequent loss of blood weakens the animals ... slowly and agonizingly. Then the matador arrives with a sword and completes the kill.

It was sickening, and as I watched, I couldn't believe this was somehow considered sport. Then again, by my presence, I was supporting it. After all, I'd bought a ticket, hadn't I?

But I bring it up now for context to point out that when it comes to cruelty to animals, Michael Vick doesn't have a corner on the market.

Like most anyone with a lick of sense-as well as morality, decency and compassion-I'll make no excuses for the actions of the now-disgraced Atlanta Falcons quarterback.

He financed a dogfighting ring. And he and his partners drowned, electrocuted, strangled, shot and body-slammed some of those dogs to death.

That's just sick.

That's not about race. That's not about culture. It's about right versus wrong, and Vick is wrong.

By accepting a guilty plea on the federal indictment, Vick's promising and prominent career has swirled down the drain. He likely will end up in prison and is certain to endure a lengthy suspension from the NFL if and when he clears the legal system. Would someone want him on an NFL team after that? Perhaps. Talent blinds, and America has demonstrated its ability to forgive time and again.

So it's not inconceivable that his reputation could be rehabilitated to the degree that his talent would afford him another opportunity to play professional football.

Oh, and before I go on, let's set aside the media-inspired hysteria that Vick has done some kind of irreparable damage to the NFL's reputation. The league has survived scandals ranging from gambling to doping to spousal abuse to murder. This, too, shall pass.

Still, Vick is deserving of the condemnation being heaped upon him. His life is forever altered. No sympathy, no way.

But I must raise a few thoughts as we consider the ugly brutality of dogfighting.

I am not a hunter. I've never had it in me to kill animals, but I don't condemn those who do. Yet, to be consistent, perhaps I should.

Yes, it is legal. But there are "trophy rooms" in homes around the country and the world filled with the heads of animals-elk, big-horn sheep, bear, moose, you name it-that have been killed simply for the "sport" of it.

Safaris are organized for the killing of some of Africa's most beautiful animals and that is considered sport.

There are preserves, even in Indiana, where deer or other animals are contained by high fences so they cannot escape from the hunter, who has paid a princely sum for a "guaranteed kill." And that is called sport.

Many of the same people condemning Vick will put on camouflage gear, hunker down in camouflaged huts, and lay down scents to attract animals just so they can blow an animal away with a rifle ... and that is considered sport.

Some set traps in the forest that will snap an animal's leg and make the creature suffer unbearable pain. And in some places, that is considered sport.

Horses and dogs race for our pleasure but, after their careers are over, are sometimes "disposed of" in inhumane ways.

Again, I'm not a hunter, nor a fisherman for that matter. Neither am I a member of PETA or a vegetarian. I enjoy a good steak and don't give much thought to how it arrived on my table. I draw a distinction between animals, fish and fowl killed for human consumption as opposed to those killed for sport. I do not condemn those who kill for food and hunt legally. I also understand the necessity of controlled hunts to thin herds for reasons related to disease or famine.

I cannot fathom what goes through the mind of someone who trains dogs to fight other dogs. I cannot imagine any human so lacking in compassion that he could do what Vick and his pals have pleaded guilty to. Thank goodness our culture draws the line. It's against the law.

And yet, the man with the animal head on his wall, or the matador with the sword in his hand, is revered. Michael Vick chose the wrong animal and the wrong culture.

Benner is associate director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to bbenner@ibj.com. Benner also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.
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