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According to the Raleigh Sports Steering Committee program page, part of the Raleigh Chamber of Commerce, NFL quarterback Michael Vick will be interviewed as a special guest at this year’s event. Here’s a quote from the program page:
“Learn the story about his incredible NFL career—his meteoric rise from poverty to riches and fame, his downfall, and his improbable comeback. His presentation includes what he learned from his mistakes and the consequences, and how he has worked to change his life.”
Well, not everyone in Raleigh thinks honoring Michael Vick among the local Champions is a good idea. Despite 75,000 names on an online petition, 1500 people signed up to protest the event, and local businesses canceled their Chamber of Commerce memberships. The national press, including The Huffington Post, ESPN and others, as well as the local press are covering the outrage attendant to this event. Nonetheless, despite the controversy, Greater Raleigh’s Chamber of Commerce President Harvey Schmidt insists the show will go on while reluctantly admitting he expected a bit of protest from the animal protection community, just not this much.
So how did Raleigh get stuck with this embarrassing fiasco? How does an area that has created endless champion athletes and top coaches from UNC, Duke and NC State end up as the launching pad for Vick’s redemption tour? Vick is hardly a native son, has no connections to the area, and, as protesters say, is far from a champion or role model. Enter Vick’s PR Firm, French West & Vaughn, Raleigh based crisis management specialists, part of the event steering committee. Michael Vick needs to land a job as the #1 guy for an NFL team. His PR team has to show he can successfully hold public events without the outrage that has canceled these events in the past. What better place to do it than Raleigh, North Carolina, where they have the Chamber of Commerce in their pocket.
The petition will soon close and the organizers will personally present it to the Chamber of Commerce. Plans are in place for full page ads from “Concerned Citizens of Raleigh” asking business owners:
“The Chamber of Commerce clearly isn’t concerned about the citizens of Raleigh. Is their logo in your store window going to hurt your business when their agenda is not about Raleigh?”
A long time active chamber member wrote:
“There’s a political lesson for all of us in the needless maelstrom that has engulfed the Raleigh Chamber of Commerce: You get fleas or worse when you lie down with dogs and dog killers, and you can destroy your credibility in a flash of bad judgment and sloppy PR.
“The chamber has inexplicably invited convicted felon, dog abuser and pro football player Michael Vick to speak to an event honoring ‘champions.’ The chamber’s defense is that his story is about human failure and redemption … and the chamber apparently believes that going to prison for hurting and killing dogs is a life lesson for young people.
“Vick has retired from hooking up dogs to car batteries and returned to the comfortable life of multi-millionaire football player and after-dinner entertainer, so the chamber is counting on him to sell some tickets.
“But business leaders whose names adorn the chamber’s membership list count on the organization to advance their political agenda and to be taken seriously. Their tolerance – and silence – around this misguided speaking invitation is contributing to the erosion of the organization’s political credibility and effectiveness.”
Sarah Williams, who brought this event to our attention, summed it up quite well, and for all of us; parents, children, animal lovers alike:
“I don’t want the man anywhere near my home, state, in the minds of my kids, or celebrated in anyway. If a football team wants to hire him because they need to win, so be it. But don’t go after fixing your image if you aren’t ready to face your past.”
UPDATE: Check out the response from Erin Anderson, Sports Council Manager, of the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce.