Animal-rights activists line the entrance to Martin's… (Baltimore Sun photo by Gene…)
Carrying signs with slogans such as "No awards for dog killers" and "Cowards abuse animals," about 100 protesters picketed the award ceremony at which convicted dogfighter Michael Vick received an award for courage and sportsmanship.
Protesters, many holding pictures of Vick's mutilated fighting dogs, and a few with dogs of their own on leashes, lined the road leading to the Martin's West banquet hall, where the Philadelphia Eagles backup quarterback was set to accept the Ed Block Courage Award Foundation honor.
Every year, one player from each of the 32 NFL teams receives the honor, which is named after the longtime Baltimore Colts trainer who also worked as a physical therapist at a hospital for disabled children. The idea is to acknowledge players who are "role models" and "exemplify commitments to the principles of sportsmanship and courage."
"I am here to protest that the Eagles have given Michael Vick a Courage Award and everyone else has gone along with it," said Darlene Sanders Harris, who organized the demonstration. "I don't think he exudes courage or any of the qualities they are looking for in an Ed Block recipient."
Animal advocates have voiced their dismay at Vick getting the honor since last December, when his teammates chose him for it. Hundreds of e-mails and calls poured into the foundation's Baltimore office, and thousands of people signed online petitions.
Numerous Baltimore-area animal advocacy groups joined the outcry, as did national organizations including the American Kennel Club.
The foundation, however, declined to intervene, allowing Vick to receive the award, although it meant bolstering security.
"People have the right to voice their opinion," said foundation spokesman Paul Mittermeier, who also noted that the executive vice president of the Humane Society of the United States was in attendance.
As the ticket holders arrived at the party, many dressed in evening wear, most of them had to drive past the protest, which was largely silent.
One protester wore a dog costume splotched with red paint to resemble blood. Others who have been picketing Eagles home games since the team signed Vick last year drove from Philadelphia to show their solidarity. Some guests honked and hooted their support. Others gestured obscenely and yelled things such as "Leave the guy alone."
"He has paid his debt and it's time to put this behind us," said Libby Westendorf, 72, of Linthicum.
A professed animal lover, she said she owns two poodles "that I treat better than my kids." But Westendorf said she's still willing to put Vick's transgressions to rest.
"You can't hold onto bad things forever or you'll never get anywhere in life," she said.
Vick, who was at the reception with his fiancee, declined to speak to a reporter about the protesters except to say, "I already addressed that."
Vick, who said the Eagles exercised their 2010 option on him (meaning he will receive a $1.5 million roster bonus sometime this week), received one of the louder ovations of the night when he was introduced at the ceremony.
"This kid screwed up," Tom Matte, a former Baltimore Colt who also is the former president of the Ed Block Foundation, said before the ceremony. "He paid his dues, now let it rest. He has lived in hell. He showed a lot of class just by showing up tonight. If I hear one boo, I may pop [the person] in the mouth."
Not everyone agreed.
Ann Coleman, a Baltimore pit bull owner and member of B-More Dog, a pit bull advocacy group, was part of the crowd protesting outside. She knew the names of the various bloodied Vick dogs displayed on the signs.
"We're not going to forget about this," she said.
Barbara Goldstein of Pikesville, who fostered a cocker spaniel that had been used as a bait dog by dog fighters, simply didn't understand why anyone would honor Vick.
"I find it appalling to give this to someone that has gotten enjoyment from hurting dogs," she said. "What is he courageous about?"
The Ravens' recipient was safety Dawan Landry, who after suffering a serious neck injury and missing the last 14 games of the 2008 season, returned this past season to regain his starting job.
The paid attendance at the awards dinner was announced at 1,050, down from 1,100 last year.