For Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, serving 21 months in prison for operating a dog-fighting ring had an upside.
"I think everything happens for a reason," Vick said Tuesday during a press conference on Capitol Hill. "I went through what I went through in my life for a reason."
Vick, who made his career comeback with the Eagles in 2009 and scored 21 touchdowns last year, has been working with the Humane Society of the United States since he got out of prison, teaching inner-city youth about the cruelty of organized animal fighting.
"There's so much more you could be doing with your time, so many animals that could be raised in a better household to be used as pets and have a happy home instead of being used for a pointless activity," Vick said. "It took for me to go through what I went through to understand the magnitude of the entire situation."
Standing at a podium in a hearing room on Capitol Hill, Vick endorsed legislation that would tighten laws against animal fighting and add felony charges to spectators who bring a minor to watch.
Pennsylvania is ranked 11th by the Humane Society in strictest state laws against dog fighting. A spectator could spend seven years in prison and pay up to a $15,000 fine.
During the press conference, Vick's face showed no expression as a video of a cockfight was played on a large projector screen. Later, asked how it felt to watch it, Vick said, "To see the young kid walking with the cock in his hand was astonishing, and that's the reason I've been proactive … this is what our kids are being taught and it's inhumane and pointless."
Vick pleaded guilty in federal court in 2007 to charges related to a dog fighting ring at a property he owned in Virginia.
Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, said he had to do "a lot of soul searching" before deciding to partner with Vick. The two have traveled the country and have spoken to about 10,000 children at schools and churches, Pacelle said.
"Going down this road of animal fighting is a dead-end street," Pacelle said they tell children. "There are no good outcomes for those who get involved in these enterprises. Michael's own story has been a very powerful one."
Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Moran of Virginia, who is a co-sponsor of the bill and a chairman of Congress' Animal Protection Caucus, said there is "nothing more intentionally cruel than animal fighting." He commended Vick for working to eradicate the practice.
"On the field your leader is the quarterback," Moran said. "We now have a leader. This is a story of redemption, it's a story of leadership, it's a story of deciding to do good in making a really substantive, consequential difference … Our society is turning a corner, and he's leading it."