The Bloodstained Terrible Towel

FB_IMG_1441042554991I have to make an admission before I fully get started. I was terrified to screw this up. I have rarely written something so personal that was not just about me, but about so many who feel the same. I wanted to make sure that I properly conveyed what is going on here in Pittsburgh. This is such an important subject here to so many people and I don’t want to let any of them down. I want to give them a voice. I hope that I have done them justice. With that said, get comfortable. This is not a short story. And it shouldn’t be.

My world was rocked out of nowhere recently. Tuesday, August 25th started like any other Tuesday. There was no reason to suspect that soon the city of Pittsburgh would have the blood of murdered dogs stained upon the very fabric of who we are. Football season was just getting underway and I was looking forward to it. Steeler fans are a special breed of fans and renowned for our feverish devotion. I live close enough to Heinz field to hear the games without my TV. I have had Steeler clients in the past. Steeler football is a part of who so many Pittsburghers are. We are a proud city, having risen far above the smoky designation that was given to us so long ago during the industrial revolution. We have Google and CMU and Pitt and some of the countries best hospitals. And of course, we have the Steelers, the Penguins and the Pirates. Major league sports are big business here. We stand tall and swelled with our team support.

As stated on the Steelers' own website, nothing unites Steelers' fans more than The Terrible Towel, waved in unison at games, at home in front of the TV and out of car windows en route to games. It’s a huge symbol in support of the Steelers both here in Pittsburgh and around the2015-09-03 20.22.54 country. So there is no better symbol to use to show out disappointment in what this once great symbol now stands for.

And now we have Michael Vick, one of the most despised men on the planet to not only many dog lovers as a whole, but in particular to those who adore Pit Bulls. Pittsburgh is not only home to all that I have listed thus far. Pittsburgh is also home to several Humane Society of the United States employees. In addition to those beautiful people who give up parts of their souls to do the work that they do, Pittsburgh has a city shelter, the Animal Rescue League and Wildlife Center, that functions as a HSUS partner shelter. That means that this shelter willingly takes on some of the survivors of dog fighting that the HSUS rescues. The same can be said for the city’s first and longest existing Pit Bull rescue, Hello Bully. In addition to Hello Bully’s fine work, we are also home to Biggies Bullies, the Proper Pit Bull and Furkid Rescue, all focusing on Pit Bulls. Two of the other major shelters in the city of Pittsburgh have humane officers who rescue Pit Bulls from local dog fighting situations. This city loves our Pit Bulls.

It was then quite a shock to find out that the Steelers were meeting with Michael Vick. It was even worse when it became clear that this was not some sick joke being played on the city’s beloved Steeler fans. This kick right to the stomach was vividly felt among the city’s dog loving fans. I honestly don’t have the right words to fully describe the feeling that this news triggered in me. Nausea, disbelief, shock, grief, anger, sadness, frustration, betrayal. I asked my friends and followers what they felt when they heard the news. Many responses mirrored my own but some put their feelings into words that I had not yet fully brought to surface.

This was not the kind of behavior that our beloved Steeler organization would support. This is not the value system that we expect from the Rooney family. We felt stupid for the blind trust that we placed in the powers that be at the Steelers, that they would never tarnish the black and gold image with a decision like this. We were wrong. We were blindsided. We were and are horrified and sickened.

So a serious betrayal was foremost in my mind while my brain processed what this meant to me and so many Pit Bull advocates. Heck, these feelings are not limited to Pit Bulls advocates. I have never seen so many dog lovers put their differences aside to join together for a common goal. To change the minds of the decision makers in the Steelers organization.

Facebook pages were created, petitions were signed, polls were voted in, vigils were arranged and held. So much support from all over the country was given, that it brings a lump in my throat to talk about it. Gordon Shell, famed MMA fighter came to town to attend the vigil on his own dime. Steffan Baldwin, well known Ohio Pit Bull rescuer came as well. Local animal advocate, Laurie Manz brought her wonderful candlelight vigil idea to fruition with a vengeance. Hundreds of people attended in person. Many more circled the site waving signs from their cars, in lieu of finding adequate parking. Thousands more lit their candles from home, not only in this country, but all over the world. The support is heartwarming.

Yet among all of the support, there is so much venom. People with too much time on their hands and hate in their heart for anything that threatens their own personal enjoyment of Steelers football are deliberately seeking out Vick detractors to try and engage them in volatile exchanges. Words best left unsaid are  thrown around left and right, personal integrities are challenged, long held friendships are fractured.

I am not immune from the divide. I cannot honestly wrap my brain around the fact that so many good people, who I call friends, can overlook the facts of what this man did. For the “privilege” of watching a game that involves throwing a ball around a field? I have chosen to break off communication with so called animal lovers who have stated they are not giving up their team because of this development. That is my choice. Is cheering for football really more important than standing up for what you believe in? Has it really come to that? Does that make you a “real” Steeler fan and those of us who cannot even see the Steeler name now without being sickened are now fake fans?

Sorry, but my veins bled just as much black and gold as anyone still watching. I have so much game gear for both myself and my dogs, that it would take more than one burning to dispose of it all. I dressed my heart dog Merlin, up as Troy Polamolu one year for a Howloween event. I won’t be displaying that picture this year as my profile picture. And sadly, I won’t display it ever again most likely. Why? Because the only remedy is for the Steelers to cancel the one year contract and respect the fan base. Releasing Michael Vick after his one year contract is not good enough. We want our voices heard now. We want to know that those dog’s lives mattered. We want to know why the Rooneys chose the low road. We want to feel like our loyalty matters. We want our Steelers to not be solely about money like so much of the NFL.

The divide is not limited to friends and acquaintances. Two of the central animal shelters in this city have chosen to draw their lines and cut all ties with the Steelers. Both the Animal Rescue League and Wildlife Center and Animal Friends Shelter have both removed Steeler gear from their store and their donated raffle items. The ARL has gone a step further and opted to change the location of their Paw Prints Gala from Heinz Field to the home of the Penguins, the Consol Energy Center. They both took great risks alienating donors. I applaud their bravery. These shelters find themselves with a large portion of Pit Bulls in need of homes. It is a pleasure to see what they do for these dogs.

On the other hand, the Western PA Humane Society opted for a more tepid view on the decision. Charlie Batch is on their BOD. Enough said.

A very insightful friend of mine wondered if the very breed that these horrors were foisted upon is the deciding factor in whether to welcome Michael Vick to our town or not. We have a very biased television news station here that delights in using the term “Pit Bull” as a trigger for hate. Would the Michael Vick sympathizers be on his side if he had tortured and murdered Golden Retrievers? I truly doubt it. I cannot even express my sadness properly at such a realization.

This video is a tribute created by Daisy Balawejder, President and Founder of Hello Bully. It showcases just some of the dogs rescued from dog fighting who came to Pittsburgh. Many more came through the ARL. These dogs came to Hello Bully. This puts some faces to why we care whether Michael Vick is here.

I would like to address each of the arguments that Vick supporters throw at Vick detractors but I am not sure that I can do the facts more justice than they have already been given. I will however, personally address the forgiveness argument. Moving on would be far more possible if Michael Vick admitted his personally heinous actions AND expressed some real remorse and sadness. Forgetting is impossible but forgiving someone who is only sorry that he got caught and went to jail is an absurd expectation. Being forced to make financial amends is not the same thing as remorse. Being forced by the NFL and his personal agents to be a public spokesman against dog fighting is a PR game at best. An ESPN video captures him stating in his own words that he know what he did was morally wrong but he had no ides that he could go to jail for his actions. His only concern was being caught, not the terrible deeds he performed.

For the rest of the arguments thrown at us, I will provide two links that already address a lot of information very thoroughly. One link is a bit older, having been written in 2011, but very cohesive with the timeline. This article gives all of the legal known facts in great detail. I heartily recommend that anyone who is interested in exactly what Michael Vick was fully participating in, read this Chris Durant article.

Here is another article written by a local Pittsburgh sports writer on Vick’s addition to the Steelers. He covers very nicely mostly, the various arguments made by the Vick sympathizers. I will add to the legal time served argument. It does not appear that the general public understands what happened legally. Michael Vick spent 18 months in prison for racketeering. He admitted to bankrolling the dog fighting organization and nothing else. He did no time for either animal cruelty or dog fighting. His time served was federal only, which would be great had it actually been for dog fighting, etc. His sole conviction for dog fighting was by the state of Virginia and his sentence was suspended for time served for the federal charges. See the Chris Durant link for more details on that subject. For leverage, be aware that former Steeler Plaxico Burress spent more time in jail for shooting himself in the leg than Michael Vick spent for the cold blooded murder of so many dogs. How is that even possible?

I think that it needs mentioned that animal abuse of the sort that Michael Vick perpetrated is part of what behavior profilers consider a triad. If it were humans that we were talking about, then it would be called a homicidal triad. But sadly, so many humans think that dogs are of lesser importance. Why is that? Because they can’t speak the human language? Humans all over the world don’t speak the same language but it isn’t acceptable to kill them. We can learn from Mahatma Ghandi. “The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

This article goes into the personality traits that make up an animal abuser and why understanding them is important to full realization of why this matters.2015-09-04 01.22.07

The last bit of information that I will provide for to make up your own mind is this passage from The Lost Dogs. This alone is enough for me to know that forgiveness is not possible. Jim Gorant’s The Lost Dogs: Michael Vick's Dogs and Their Tale of Rescue and Redemption not only give you the legalities, it will give you details that you may not actually have the fortitude to make your way through. If this knowledge doesn’t help you see his actions for the psychopath that he is actually is, nothing will.

“And then there was one last body that stood out from the rest. It had signs of of bruising on all four ankles and all along its side. Brownie had said that all the dogs that didn't die from being hanged were drowned, except one.

As that dog lay on the ground fighting for air, Quanis Phillips grabbed its front legs and Michael Vick grabbed its hind legs. They swung the dog over their head like a jump rope then slammed it to the ground. The first impact didn't kill it. So [they] slammed it again. The two men kept at it, alternating back and forth, pounding the creature against the ground, until at last, the little red dog was dead.”

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Positively Expert: Debby McMullen

Debby is a certified behavior consultant and the author of the How Many Dogs? Using Positive Reinforcement Training to Manage a Multiple Dog Household. She also owns Pawsitive Reactions, LLC in Pittsburgh, PA.


35 thoughts on “The Bloodstained Terrible Towel

  1. Pickle

    If you do not already understand the context of this, it's a really confusing article. It took me several reads to understand.

  2. Sandra

    Micheal Vick is a very sick man and should be shunned not only by the Steelers, but by the NFL as well. What he did was inexcusable.

  3. Laura Fine

    Some of the facts are off regarding his fed charges. The wording doesn't say "dog fighting" but more to "transporting for the sole purpose to fight ", which is illegal..but translate to dog fighting. Additionally, it was the state of Virginia's job to prosecute him for animal abuse. They incited him for it! But for ome reason, they just ignored it, never pursuing it. To this day, and to my knowledge, they have never explained that.

  4. anij

    I'm sorry but the last paragraph just destroyed me. I just don't understand how or why anyone would treat a poor innocent that way. And how does such a monster walk free? What has this country come to?

  5. connie

    Why in the world is Vick still playing ball?? He should have been banned for life. Slap on the wrist is all he got..these ball players are giving sports a bad name. They are either arrested for shooting someone...beating their woman or fighting. Something is seriously wrong with all this!! It all needs to be cleaned up now! Too much money....they are paid too much money and think they are above the law!!

  6. Jane Young

    Are there not petitions to stop this moron being accepted back in society by other morons only interested in sport/dog fighting?

  7. Collar Karma

    Thank you for this article. As one that's been under attack for refusing to sell Steelers merchandise in my very little store, it's been very difficult to convey just WHY we pit bull advocates and breed lovers can't "let it go". The NFL should never have let him back in the first place but if we can't make them change their collective minds, we can try to change just one.

    And then another. And another. And another.

  8. J

    You realize that your worthless QB has raped women, don't you? You're willing to support the team despite that, but Vick is what pushes you over the edge?

    What Vick did was horrible and I agree that he should not have a place in football, where he is looked up to by many young children, but give me a break. The Steelers, and their fans, have much worse to be upset about as long as a rapist is kept around.

  9. Galadriel

    "I was terrified to screw this up. I have rarely written something so personal that was not just about me, but about so many who feel the same. I wanted to make sure that I properly conveyed what is going on here in Pittsburgh."

    I agree with this sentiment completely.

    Unfortunately, you did screw this up by referencing the Terrible Towel in your title and by posting an image of burning it. Myron Cope and the Terrible Towel have nothing at all to do with this decision and in fact is a completely separate organization that does immense good. People are so offended by your unfounded attack on the deceased Myron that they do not hear the rest of your message.

  10. Kenneth Bates

    People say he did his time , As far as I know He never did time for the dogs , He did time for taxes and crossing state lines .

  11. Kenneth Bates

    I've been a Steeler fan as long as I can remember but not anymore . I'll find a new team to spend my money on or better yet root for whoever Pittsburgh is playing . I'll stick with my Buckeyes , College football is better anyhow and my four Pits look better in Scarlet .

  12. FelineCool

    Being rightfully cynical, I feel you are a bit naive to think any sports franchise would pass on an income opportunity over an altruistic, ethical animal issue. Abhorrent as the crimes against these loyal, trusting, loving dogs were, sports teams are corporations who care only about one thing: money. They could give a rat's arse about anything else. Look at the way all kinds of dubious, abusive, criminal incidents have been handled by the NFL, it's a joke. They would justify signing Charles Manson if he could play football well. I'm sorry they let you down.

  13. Kalisma

    Well said, Debby, from a pit bull advocate and former Steelers fan. I turned my back on the NFL as a whole when they decided to let Vick back on the field- that was bad enough. But to see him in a Steelers uniform causes an even more visceral reaction. The man never has even had the human decency to say he was sorry for killing those dogs. In fact he has stated on the record that if he hadn't been caught, he would still be involved in dog fighting. I hope the Karma bus is rolling toward him- he has certainly earned it.

  14. Tonia Beuerlein

    Thank you so much for putting into words what has been in my heart and mind. I, too can no longer be a fan to a team that would sign such a person.

  15. Lisa DiStefano Hannigan

    This is amazingly well-written. The links to other articles makes it even better. Vick was never even charged with dogfighting, only racketeering. He's a psychopath who needs to be banned from pro football.

  16. Kye Ceraul-Hendrix

    Very well written. I also rescue and I love all dogs but the love I have for Pits is so strong. What that demon did to those precious living ,breathing, beautiful animals should be punished beyond all measures. To see him pay for the NFL period is a disgrace. What a good example we are showing our kids by allowing his face to ever grace the sport or TV. He should be banned from everything. He is a disgrace and a waste if air that I breath.

  17. Rebecca Hyle

    First I am not a football fan, second I have numerous dogs (mostly herding type) That being said I along with most other dog lovers, I have seen the photos & read the articles about Micheal Vick. I can't believe the NFL would continue to allow him to play. I also can't believe he was not charged with more jail time for the crimes he committed. I guess they wanted to get him on the more 'jail time' charges. Our kids look up to sports players and I think it says alot about our sports mentality to let him play. Ticket sales and winning are more important than morals. Numerous friends have Pitts and they are great dogs, to put them in the position of fighting for profit is disgusting. Good luck with your petition and I hope Vick goes to hell really soon.

  18. Kaye Poole Ivey

    This article was very well written with clarity and understanding. I've read, in detail, about the abuse these animals suffered under Vick and it takes a sick individual to condone the behavior whether he knew it was illegal or not. Let's get a car battery and cables, attach it to Vick and throw him in a swimming pool. I'll never hear the name of Michael Vick and not be disgusted.

  19. people power 2000

    Grow up. The man paid his dues in prison and has done countless hours of work with the humane society and Peta. You also forget the investigation proceed he didn't participate only allowed it to happen on his property. Instead of worrying about your backup qb who hasn't harmed an animal since conviction you use your efforts to stop the people still doing it.

  20. Janice Brosseau

    First, I am not a sports fan of any kind, and certainly not dog fighting. This is fantasy and I in no way condone dog fighting and I am a Staffordshire Bull Terrier owner, with that said . . . I might be able to begin to understand what the Steelers have done if the dogs had been pampered, nursed, cared for, protected, received daily vet checks and the "winner" of the fight received all proper vet care, in between the fights, until completely healed, and the loser, if not dead, was humanely euthanized. This is not the case. Losers and dogs that did not "engage" (had no innate desire to fight) were hung up in trees to die, or drowned, or electrocuted. Yet, even under the deplorable conditions these poor dogs lived and raised in (including not being fed for many days before a fight, to make them hungry for blood), there were some dogs that would still not engage, they just wanted to be loved, as is proven by the myriad of Vick dogs that found their forever homes. As I prefaced earlier, this is a fantasy scenario and I still would not stand for dog fighting not matter how plush the conditions were, but, might be able to understand why the Steelers have made the decision they have, but the way things were at the Vick camp . . . no way. Is Vick really worth it? What is the point of dog fighting, anyway? Better yet, ask yourself what kind of people enjoy watching two animals fight to the death of one? Or cock fighting? I don't even believe in the racing of greyhounds or horses, and I don't like to see any wild animals in captivity. i can't even watch professional boxing, and that is done under their own volition, hopefully.

  21. Randall Amey

    I will take this seriously as soon as the verdict for the Ben Rolthlesberger rape case is in................I'm still waiting Pittsburgh.

  22. layoung133

    along w/disgust about Michael Vick's total lack of remorse and no request for forgiveness or attempt to work towards atonement, I also stopped supporting HSUS due to Wayne Pacelle's acceptance of Michael Vick as though Vick had been habilitated. UGH!

  23. Debby

    No, the facts are solid. Transporting is not a dog fighting conviction. I supplied plenty of links that include all of the legal facts. Avail yourself of them. Thanks.

  24. Debby

    Ben was neither charged or convicted. And no one died. And once again, because the subject of Ben is not addressed by me, please don't assume that we support him. Once again, I supplied numerous links to refute every single argument such as this that Vick supporters throw at Vick detractors. Avail yourself of the links.

  25. Debby

    Clearly, you aren't reading the article if you are continuing with the argument that the man paid his dues. No, he didn't. Once again, avail yourself of the facts readily available.

  26. Debby

    That is your view on it. I know who created the Terrible Towel. It doesn't matter. A picture and link on the Steelers own website convey with accuracy that the Terrible Towel is indeed a symbol of support for the Steelers. So unfortunately, the Terrible Towel is going down with the Steelers. To Pittsburgh and the world, the Terrible Towel means you are a Steeler supporter. I should know that. I was born and raised in Pittsburgh and grew up swinging my Terrible Towel with happiness for every dealer success. So thank you for your opinion, but I did not screw that up at all.

  27. Michelle R.

    Here is the problem with one sided view points...
    1. He did pay his dues as handed down by a judge. If you don't like it change the justice system! Plea bargains should be haulted completely. But murders (of human beings[no worse or better than what Mr. Vick did]), rapists, child molesters, etc. have gotten less time than the time Vick did.
    2. He did not and does not have to ask anyone's forgiveness. The only person he will need to answer to is his higher power (whoever/whatever that may be).
    3. You do not know this man.Just because he is not out screaming his remorse for doing things in his life does not mean he is not remorseful. Again, he doesn't have to answer to or publicly show remorse.
    4. I not only read the articles that you referenced, I read the book. I also sought out the other side of this story long ago. Some of the things in the book were made up (according to some quoted individuals) or were twisted to fit what the author wanted. When you seek out more information, you can find more than just your side of this. I would provide a link or two but because I am typing this from my cell phone, it is not allowing me to do so and I have no access at this time to anything but my phone.
    5. Everyone has the right to not support the Steelers because of this decision and I respect that right fully. But I also have the right to support them no matter who may be on their roster. I try to be completely respectful when commenting but have been attacked for not dropping the Steelers or NFL. I think that people should be respectful on both sides.
    As much as I agree with some of your points, I also disagree on some. I will continue to support the Steelers and my local animal rescue! I love my animals and my Steelers football.
    Good luck in your endeavors to help the Pit bulls!

  28. Debby

    Ben was neither charged or convicted. And no one died. And once again, because the subject of Ben is not addressed by me, please don't assume that we support him. Once again, I supplied numerous links to refute every single argument such as this that Vick supporters throw at Vick detractors. Avail yourself of the links.

  29. Sue Freie

    Wow you said it so eloquently, I agree with you 100% what Vick did is unforgivable and inexcusable. He is a worthless human being. I feel for the people who have to have this man know their team. There are plenty of awesome players out there. These poor souls had no choice, they only wanted to be loved. Something that man has no idea what that means. He should have been locked up for life. Keep up the good work.

  30. Sue Foster-Freie

    You are an ass that's all. How about the punishment fit the crime. You are obviously not an animal lover. Be glad children weren't involved, you'd probably be ok with that too huh?

  31. Russell Butler

    I have some questions:

    1) Did dog fighting end around the world when Michael Vick was imprisoned?

    2) Was Michael Vick the most powerful corporate sponser of dog fighting?

    3) If we are not to forgive Michael Vick for dog fighting, what other atrocious acts should we be holding on to?

    4) Does the fact that Ben was not convicted make what he did acceptable? (Oh so you can rape a woman and be forgiven)

    People are fostering anger for a man who committed a reprehensible act... but where are the news headlines for CURRENT DOG FIGHTERS?

  32. Debby

    People whose comments show that they clearly have not read the article they are commenting on just make the commenter look uninformed.

  33. Debby

    The fact that you read the book and are still okay with "forgiving" him tells everyone all that is needed about your character. For the other statements, well, those actually reveal that you clearly did not read all the information that I provided or you would not have made them.

  34. Marie Leclair

    Well said & well written! I live in FL near Orlando & there is a street called Vick Rd. I have no idea if it was named for him or not but I know I cringe each time I see that street sign.

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