Three violent elements in American popular culture –- football, gangsta rap and dog fighting -- have intersected in the sensational case involving Michael Vick, the black football star. On July 17, a federal grand jury in the state of Virginia indicted the 27-year-old Vick and three associates on charges of operating an enterprise called "Bad Newz Kennels" to breed pit bulls for high-stakes fights to the death, and of killing off dogs who performed poorly by dousing them with water and then electrocuting them, slamming them into the ground or shooting them with a .22. One count in the 18-page indictment described a "rape stand, a device in which a female who is too aggressive to submit to males for breeding is strapped down, with her head held in place by a restraint."       

            Of course there are plenty of high-profile black players in the country's most popular spectator sport, American football. What's singular about Vick is that he's a quarterback –- a meld of rugby's scrum and fly halves and always the master tactician and key player on any team. Until Vick, there've been no superstar black quarterbacks, at least in part because of the racist assumption by managers and owners that while black behemoths can rush and block, they simply aren't up to the cerebral challenges confronting the quarterback.          

            Vick broke through those prejudices and in 2004 the Atlanta Falcons boosted him to a 10-year, $130 million contract. Thus far he has been paid about $44 million, including $37 million in guaranteed bonuses. Atlanta has one of the largest black populations of any American city, and until now, Vick has been a huge local star, lofting the Falcons in the national ratings.

            The stark language of the indictment has gone a fair way towards destroying Vick long before he gets his day in court, even as he protests his innocence. If convicted, he faces six years in prison. The National Football League, aghast at the damage to its image wrought by the descriptions of "Ookie" Vick and alleged co-conspirators such as "P-Funk" Peace torturing dogs at Bad Newz Kennels, have told him not to attend the Falcons' training sessions, which commenced Thursday, July 26, the same day Vick and three others were formally arraigned.

            Dog fighting has led a long, semi-covert existence in white redneck culture. Lately, it's also become associated with hip-hop. Owners, dogs and fans travel hundreds of miles to face-offs between pit bull champions, male and female, which continue till one dog is killed or surrenders. The indictment describes defeated dogs on the Bad Newz strength being shot out of hand after defeat. It also details the wagers, ranging from $3,000 to $20,000 on a single contest.          

            Jason Whitlock, a popular, right-wing black sports columnist based at the Kansas City Star with a specialty in onslaughts on his own people, swiftly wrote an acrid column about the links between dog fighting, rap and Vick's indictment: "I believe Vick got involved with breeding vicious pit bulls because rap-music culture made it the cool thing to do. … Vick didn't do it for the money. The Atlanta Falcons gave him all the money he could ever hope to spend. Vick was involved in pit bull breeding (and quite possibly dog fighting) because he enjoyed it. He's a product of a culture that makes the 'profession' acceptable and honorable. It's the same culture that has turned the dope dealer into mayor of the neighborhood. It speaks to the grip the negative aspects of hip-hop culture have on young people."

            Dog fighting is on the rise, or so the American Humane Society avers. The animal shelters say that these days sometimes 50 percent of the abandoned animals they pick up in the streets are wounded pit bulls dumped by their owners. There's no gangsta monopoly here. White crackers certainly outnumber black rappers in the fancy. White complacency doesn't take long to puncture either. Rudy Giuliani's wife, Judith, worked for U.S. Surgical in years gone by as part of a sales force that demonstrated sutures on dogs they slashed and then later killed. It was white Ivy League psychologists, not rappers, who devised the interrogation techniques at Abu Ghraib, where dogs were trained on the torture games inflicted on naked prisoners. You can't blame it all on rap-music culture, just one little rivulet in the imperial watershed.

            Alexander Cockburn is coeditor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book "Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils," available through To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at COPYRIGHT 2007 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.