Michael Vick's new autobiography has a theme of redemption, but, as a Northvale bookstore owner has discovered, forgiveness does not come easy for a convicted animal abuser.
Reaction to the football star's slated appearance at Books & Greetings on March 23 was so "overwhelmingly scary," owner Kenny Sarfin said, the store announced the event's cancellation Monday.
Plans for Vick to appear at Barnes & Noble stores around the country also were scrapped Monday, because of what the publisher called "credible threats of personal harm and property damage" in a statement released Monday evening.
In the case of Books & Greetings, Sarfin said protests began to pour in as soon as the store announced on its website Thursday that the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback would be signing books there.
"We've never seen so much negativity as over this," said Sarfin, who heard from hundreds of angry individuals via emails, Facebook postings and over the phone. "Nobody physically threatened us, but they definitely said: 'Be prepared for protesters,' 'Be prepared for us to boycott your store,' 'We've been shopping here for five years. We will never step in again.'
"It became absolutely overwhelming. ... It wasn't worth the aggravation of alienating all these friends and customers over one event."
Vick, who ran a dogfighting ring and admitted in court to helping drown or hang at least six canines, pleaded guilty to federal charges in August 2007. He served 18 months of a 23-month jail sentence before being reinstated to football.
"Michael Vick: Finally Free -- An Autobiography" is published by Worthy Publishing, a Christian book-publishing company in Brentwood, Tenn. In a statement released Monday evening, the company said that because of threats, Worthy Publishing, "in coordination with Michael Vick's advisers," had canceled Vick's planned book signings around the country.
Calls seeking comment from Barnes & Noble, whom protesters had targeted with an online petition, were not returned.
Although "some people did say: 'Good for you. He was a football star. He paid his price and we will come to meet him, because everybody's entitled to a second chance,' the comments were just overwhelmingly scary," Sarfin said. "There was a lot of hatred and there was a lot of anger.
"In today's world, with Facebook and the emails, you don't even know where it's coming from, but we did see some familiar names, and in fact, some of them were people we truly know and love, people who were customers and neighbors, and they were very critical."
It's not the first time North Jerseyans have been less than welcoming to Vick. In June 2011, when he appeared at Butler Sports Cards to sign autographs for upward of $120 apiece, some 50 protesters showed up to shout at Vick ("Killer" was a common chant) and at the fans who'd come to see him.
One protester from that day, Candi Bright -- founder of Wayne's Gentle Giants Rescue and Sanctuary, dedicated to saving giant-breed dogs that are in danger of being euthanized -- said Monday that she called both Books & Greetings and Barnes & Noble to lodge her protests.
"I'm very happy that they canceled," Bright said. "He's not a positive role model. A lot of people say, 'Let it go, let it go, he did his time.' He did his time on a lesser charge. He did his time for animal abuse and he got 18 months. He murdered, he tortured. I'm sorry, he didn't do his time. And my personal opinion, if you can do that to an animal, a living, breathing creature, you can do that to anybody."
Sarfin said he'd like to make his customers aware of why he booked the NFL player.
"When I invited Michael Vick in, I actually invited him as a celebrity, as a football star, and the book is about redemption. It comes through what I would call a Christian publisher," Sarfin said. "Worthy tends to write books that are about religion and self-help and that kind of thing. ... I never, ever expected this kind of a reaction."
He booked Vick last Wednesday, announced it the following day, and decided Sunday to cancel the event.
When word got out on Monday, "ironically, we started to get a new set of emails from people saying 'Why would you cancel? Why did you give in to them? We wanted to see him. He was a football star.' It was the other side of the coin. And then they were mad at us," Sarfin said.
"We don't want to alienate anyone. We always try to do the right thing. And that's why I threw in the towel on this one. It ain't worth it."
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