Michael Vick (Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports)
Michael Vick has a question for the animal rights activists who harp on his past and might have made death threats against him: "Why would you continue to bash somebody who's trying to help make the world a better place?"
The Philadelphia Eagles quarterback, who four years ago was imprisoned on federal dogfighting charges, appeared at a suburban Atlanta church for a charity event for juvenile offenders Saturday afternoon, signing autographs four days after his publisher, worried about death threats, canceled a series of appearances by Vick to help promote his autobiography, "Finally Free."
Animal rights activists have made Vick a longtime target for their protests, and their anger recently was stoked when Vick admitted his family had a new dog as a pet, because he wanted to learn from his past and teach his children how to care for animals. When threats were made, Vick's tour was temporarily suspended.
"A lot of people are sick and tired of hearing about my past, because there are so many other problems that are going on in this world that need to have attention drawn to them," Vick told USA TODAY Sports. "People are dying every day, children are being killed, going to jail. Not to say I overlook what I've done, but I try to do outreach as a positive."That's my responsibility. That's what I'm going to continue to do. That's what's important. Those people are not important."
The book tour is back on, and Vick says he wasn't afraid for his life when Facebook comments threatened violence, but he was concerned for the health of others.
"It wasn't so much fear, but you have to take precaution for yourself and your family, and for other people as well," he said. "I knew a lot of people were going to be at the signings, and I didn't want to put anyone in jeopardy.
"I think the small fraction of people who are still making these derogatory comments and thinking irrationally, they're in a league of their own. But we won't let it stop us from what we're trying to do."
Wrote one Facebook user: "I would go there to slit your throat knowing how you treat animals."
Vick, 32, says all the attention over the canceled signings actually boosted sales of his book, which focuses on his childhood in Newport News, Va., and the events surrounding his incarceration. He intends to complete an amended book signing tour with added security measures.
"We're definitely going to finish the book tour," he said. "Even if it happens again, we're still going to move forward, but we'll do it in a totally different way. The book is doing great because of all the attention it's gotten in the last couple days, so what more can I ask for?"
Vick spoke with USA TODAY Sports by phone while signing autographs in Stone Mountain, Ga., at the Victory For the World Church, which hosted his appearance in concert with Team Freedom Outreach, a year-old non-profit which pairs Christian fathers with juveniles in youth detention centers for mentoring sessions. Charity organizer Isaac Ingram said the Vick appearance comes down to "faith vs. fear."
Vick, a father of three, says Atlanta has always been a safe haven. He's visited the area twice in the past two years after spending the first six seasons of his NFL career with the Atlanta Falcons.
"It's great to be back in Atlanta," he said. "The one thing I'll never forget is the hospitality here. People have been so gracious when I've come back."