Michael Vick, quarterback and convicted dog fighter, is coming to South Florida. He's the official celebrity host of a party tonight at MI-VI (pronounced m-i-six), a nightclub at Gulfstream in Hallandale Beach.
And with the tenacious vitriol of a fighting dog, out come the protesters. The animal rights advocates, the pit bull lovers, and the people who so detest this man that they feel compelled to make signs and tell the world.
"I'll admit that I've had fantasies about telling Michael Vick that even though he's bankrolling now, he's despicable, a horrible human being." says protest organizer Sharon Athanasiou, of Hollywood. "We haven't forgotten about his atrocities."
Athanasiou says she first heard about the party from a friend on Facebook and thought it must have been a joke.
"I couldn't believe it," she says. "I had to call the promoter to verify. He said it was true. I asked why they would want this man hosting a party there. He said, 'Why not? He did his time.' I told him there are a lot of dog lovers out there who aren't going to like this."
Athanasiou contacted her close friend, Michele Lazarow, and started organizing a protest. They sent out messages, called the Hallandale Beach police and informed them of their intentions, and reached out to local animal rights groups. Plenty of sports fans (without dogs) are over Vick's crimes -- he pleaded guilty to conspiracy and bankrolling a dog fighting ring and served 18 months in Leavenworth Penitentiary -- but the passion with which some people still despise him is incredible.
Some protesters will wear shirts showing dogs urinating on Vick. Some will hold signs bearing photos of the wounded dogs found on Vick's property. Some will skip work just to be there, Athanasiou says.
She says she's actually still mad that Vick was never convicted of animal cruelty (part of his plea deal).
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"We feel he essentially got away with murder," she says, the volume of her voice rising with anger as she thinks about it. "He threw his own pets into the dog fighting ring and laughed. He drowned and electrocuted dogs himself. This is not a man you want hosting a Memorial Day party event in your community."
Some celebrities listed as Vick's "invited guests" include Dwyane Wade, 50 Cent, T.I., Allen Iverson, and Floyd Mayweather. Some protesters have wondered aloud whether Vick isn't a partial owner of the club, since the name is MI-VI, as in MIchael VIck. (A promoter says Vick is not an owner, just a "celebrity guest host.")
In the year since his release from prison, Vick has volunteered to speak about the error of his ways, working with the Humane Society's national office. Event organizers originally said they planned to donate a portion of the proceeds to the Humane Society of Greater Miami, but the organization rejected the offer, saying it didn't want its name used to promote Vick's party.
Athanasiou says she's excited she finally gets to tell Vick how she feels in person. "What an opportunity to let him know that even though he has his $5.2 million deal in sports, there are tons of people who don't like him and don't want him here."