PHILADELPHIA — The explosive debate that has consumed the city since the arrival of Michael Vick played out on a much smaller and more subdued scale Thursday at the Philadelphia Eagles' stadium and an animal rights event across town.
The local NAACP's planned march outside Lincoln Financial Field to support Vick, the former Pro Bowl quarterback who was convicted in a dogfighting ring, did not materialize, although about a dozen members set up a table with banners supporting him.
Earlier, three women held a sign saying, "Murderers are not role models."
In the middle was Clarissa Sherrow, a 25-year season ticket holder who arrived decked out in a Dalmatian rescue T-shirt and carrying a sign that said, "The rescue in your state could use help." Sherrow, of Nottingham, said she wanted to make sure Vick — who has pledged to fight animal cruelty — puts his money where his mouth is.
"I'm not protesting; I'm a true Eagles fan," Sherrow said. "I hope Michael Vick does what he says, that he's going to give back to the animals."
Several miles away in North Philadelphia, animal welfare advocates held a tailgating party to encourage adoption of pit bulls rescued from local dogfighting rings.
More than a dozen dogs, including two rescued just last weekend, were playing with volunteers during a vegetarian cookout at the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Mary Donato, who has three dogs, came to show her support for the agency, where one of her daughters is a vet technician. She said that Vick's 18-month prison term was not long enough, and that he shouldn't be able to play football anymore. Vick and his accomplices admitted to torturing to death dogs that underperformed in fights.
"What kind of role model is he for the children?" said Donato, of South Philadelphia. "They made a very big mistake."
The opposing view could be found outside the stadium, where people sported Vick jerseys defending the quarterback, saying he had been punished for his crime and deserved a second chance.
Wearing a T-shirt that declared "Forgive Vick/Go Eagles," George Jones said he and some friends drove from their homes in Portsmouth, Va., near where Vick grew up. Jones said he had followed the quarterback since Vick's high school days.
"Soon as we heard he was going here, we got the tickets," Jones said. "He was doing something wrong ... but I believe he paid his debt to society and needs to be forgiven."
J. Whyatt Mondesire, head of the local NAACP chapter, said too many radio talk shows had beaten up on Vick and that he saw elements of racism in some of the comments. Even though the march fizzled, Mondesire had words of support for Vick.
"Michael is not alone. This is not a one-sided dialogue," Mondesire said. "There are other forces in this community that believe in this man."
Vick entered the game on the second play from scrimmage to a rousing ovation from the crowd. He played receiver and quarterback, completing his first three passes against the Jacksonville Jaguars.