Appearing in Baltimore to speak out against animal cruelty, NFL quarterback Michael Vick acknowledged participating in a dog fight in an abandoned city building several years ago.
Vick, working on repairing his image after serving 18 months in federal prison for animal cruelty charges, made the disclosure to a group of 35 young people at the city's downtown Juvenile Justice Center on Thursday, according to those who heard the talk organized by the Humane Society of the United States. Some in attendance addressed reporters outside afterward.
"He knows there's a problem in Baltimore," said Tio Hardiman, the Humane Society's director of urban outreach.
The Philadelphia Eagles quarterback told the kids that while he was in the NFL, he came to Baltimore to fight dogs at an event organized by acquaintances inside an abandoned building. He said "he just couldn't understand why he did it," said Hardiman, who did not know the date or location of the fight.
Vick sat in the bleachers with kids from the Choice Program, which is a part of the Shriver Center at UMBC that provides kids with mentoring, supervision and case management, said LaMar Davis, director of the program and who watched Vick speak to the kids.
He talked about his mistakes and fielded questions about his football career and also met with incarcerated kids inside the center, Davis said.
"He was fantastic," Davis said. "He really connected with the kids. I felt fortunate that he was able to connect with our kids."
Vick was in Baltimore two months earlier for the Ed Block Courage Award ceremony in March, which was picketed by about 100 people.
Carolyn Kilborn, chairwoman of Maryland Votes for Animals, a political action committee, was among those protesters, but said Thursday morning she couldn't be happier that he's back for this — and hopes he'll return regularly to talk to even more young people in town.
"I am absolutely thrilled," she said. "Kids in that situation are more likely to listen to someone like Michael Vick. He can do a lot of good for troubled kids. And when he does good for troubled kids, he's going to be doing good for the animals as well.
"If today was just a first start, he could change Baltimore and change kids all over this city," she continued. "He has the power to make a change in kids' hearts like very few other people can."
Vick owned Bad Newz Kennels, a dog-fighting operation in Virginia where dogs were electrocuted and hanged. The Virginia Tech player and former Atlanta Falcon saw his professional career interrupted by an 18-month stint in federal prison.
Earlier this year when the Humane Society asked Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon if it could bring Vick to town to speak at a school, Baltimore's new Anti-Animal Cruelty Task Force unanimously vetoed the idea.
At Thursday's event, Juvenile Services Secretary Donald W. DeVore addressed media, saying "it was moving to watch the interaction that just took place."