TIP SHEET: Michael Vick Dogfighting Case

September 25, 2007
University of Virginia Media Relations
Tip Sheet for Journalists


WHO:   Edmund P. Russell
             University of Virginia Associate Professor
             Department of Science, Technology and Society
             Author of forthcoming book, “Bulldog Nation” a history of dogfighting and “blood sports”

CONTACT:    Office phone: (434) 982-2623; Home: (434) 295-8322
                         e-mail: epr5d@virginia.edu


As the author of the forthcoming book, “Bulldog Nation,” about dogfighting and so-called “blood sports” in England, Professor Russell is an expert on the history of dogfighting and how the sport’s popularity has continued for more than three centuries. His background and expertise put Professor Russell in a position to provide an unusual, informative and compelling perspective on the Michael Vick case and what it says about today’s society.  Dr. Russell studies the interactions between science, technology, society and the environment for U.Va.’s School of Engineering and Applied Science. His first book, “War and Nature,” used the history of chemical warfare and pest control as a case study of the relationship between war and environmental change. He has served on the University of Virginia faculty since 1994 and has a joint appointment in the Department of History.


“The Michael Vick case is in the news, I think, because it explodes our notions of progress. Everybody knows that dogfighting existed in the past, along with ‘bull baiting’ and other blood sports but, over time, largely as a result of the humane movement, those sorts of activities have been outlawed, gone underground. The shocking thing about the Vick case it that a wealthy, highly respected individual – famous even – has turned out to be involved in this world that we thought we had left behind.”

“Vick is an enormously wealthy athlete, prominent in Atlanta and around the country as one of the most famous professional football players so he’s participating in the very top reaches of our society. At the same time, though, he does come out of a background of less income and apparently started getting involved in having animals fight each other in his youth, and he continued. So, it violates our sense of some distinctions. We are bringing together at the same time someone who is very wealthy and somebody who comes from a poor background and we are sometimes shocked to find that those things exist at the same time, together.”

“The public outcry over the Michael Vick dogfighting case would have shocked Queen Elizabeth I, and her contemporaries. The Queen, who ruled England from 1558 to 1603, loved animal combat, hosted contests for visiting dignitaries, and would have been astonished to see such contests suppressed.”

“Under pressure from the humane movement in England, the British Parliament in 1800 began considering bills to ban blood sports such as dog fighting but early efforts failed because power rested with the rural aristocracy, which actively supported such sports. In 1835, Britain passed a law outlawing blood sports, which drove dogfighting underground. The sport eventually gained popularity in North America, where its legacy continues today, as evidenced by the Michael Vick case.”

“We Americans pride ourselves on our war of independence from England, but the indictment of Michael Vick reminds us that independence hardly meant separation. The persistence of dogfighting reminds us that the future always grows out of the past.”

NOTE:        To hear audio clips of Professor Russell discussing dogfighting and the Michael Vick case, go to http://www.virginia.edu/uvapodcast/newspopup.php?submit=true&id=556 and
www.npr.org/rss/podcast.php. Text from another recent interview by Professor Russell about dogfighting is available at www.dailyprogress.com/servlet

A high-resolution color photo of Professor Russell may be downloaded for editorial use at http://www.virginia.edu/uvatoday/newsRelease.php?id=2652#.

You may also listen to Professor Russell’s recent interview about dogfighting and the Michael Vick case on WHYY FM Radio Philadelphia by going to www.whyyxxx.  A color photograph is Professor Russell is available at www.xxx