Michael Vick was an odd choice for a local autograph session, even if it was organized by a local sporting goods and memorabilia store owner for sports fans.

This was the best professional athlete Joe Bartolo could find, a man who served 18 months in federal prison for a dog-fighting scandal that made him a pariah on and off the field?

Vick may have reclaimed his NFL career -- as quarterback for our nearly hometown Philadelphia Eagles, no less -- but surely the owner of JJ Cards-N-Toys in Springettsbury Township could have booked someone less controversial.

After his release from prison, Vick has tried mightily -- with the aid of PR consultants -- to convince the world he's a changed man, someone who has learned from his mistakes.

He speaks to troubled youth about second chances, he appeared on Capitol Hill to lobby Congress in support of tougher dog-fighting laws and he's toned down his off-field antics.

Whether you believe it's a true redemption or simply an image makeover, it has worked to a degree.

In addition to his recharged career, his sponsors have embraced him again, his jersey is a top seller and more than 70 people shelled out $75 to attend the autograph session Bartolo organized.

But to many, Vick's crime will always be unforgivable -- and understandably so, considering the gruesome details, which included him helping to kill seven dogs that had lost fights.


Bartolo said he knew people still have strong feelings about Vick, so the resulting boycott of the autograph session after it was publicized should not have come as a surprise.

What did shock him -- and us, as well -- were the 60 to 80 threats a day directed not just at him but at his wife and three children.

"What did my kids do?" Bartolo asked.

Nothing, and Bartolo didn't do anything to warrant such abuse, either.

Boycotts and protests are fine and, as we said, even expected in a case like this.

But the threats and harassment crossed the line.

Bartolo is a businessman who deals in sports, and, right or wrong, Vick is a successful and popular athlete again.

If that doesn't seem right to some people, they should take it up with the NFL and Vick's sponsors -- if it weren't for them no one would even want Vick's autograph right now.

Bartolo has canceled the autograph session with Vick and is looking for another Eagles player to book in his place.

As for the controversy, "I just want it to go away," he said.

Given the emotions involved, that might take some time.

But the threats can stop immediately.