Before the world focused on Michael Vick‘s alleged grotesqueries—-look for “rape stand” to be added to future editions of Webster’s thanks to this case—-he was among the most sought-after pitchmen in all of sports. Perhaps the coolest product he pimped came from inventor Jay Spiegel of Mount Vernon. Spiegel concocted the five-panel football, which has an extra piece of pigskin and, therefore, one more seam than the traditional four-panel ball. While trying to get various football sanctioning bodies to approve the use of his brainchild, Spiegel licensed the ball to Rawlings, which in turn got Vick to endorse it a few years ago.
Vick remains the five-panel ball’s only celebrity pusher.
But Vick’s value as an endorser is now, as Elvis Costello would say, less than zero. It’s bad enough when PETA and the ASPCA come after you, but when Al Sharpton gets on your case, as Don Imus found out, smoke ’em if you got ’em. Sharpton and Russell Simmons sent a letter to Vick’s benefactors, including Rawlings calling for everybody to take a stand against dogfighting and those who participate in the bloodsport.
“Stand up for what is right, and speak out against what is wrong,” Sharpton et al. wrote.
Via e-mail, Spiegel says Vick did a fine job of hawking his invention, which at its peak in 2005 was used by “about 600” high schools across the USA, and that “as a dog lover, I hope the charges are false.”
Even before the dog-fighting mess became public, Vick’s relationship with Rawlings was set to end this year. Spiegel says he wishes Rawlings worked harder to get the ball approved for use by the NCAA, and he is now trying to find another company to take over the marketing of the five-panel, which he still insists is “fundamentally superior to 4-panel footballs.”