FLOWERY BRANCH — Here’s a change in Atlanta: A Falcons player showing some love for animals.
Providing quite a contrast to Michael Vick’s gruesome dogfighting operation, tight end Tony Gonzalez and his wife, October, posed in the nude for an anti-fur advertisement from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
The newly released ad, which was photographed over the summer in Los Angeles, shows the couple sitting together on green turf for the group’s “We’d Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur” campaign. They’re following celebrities who have posed in the buff, including Dennis Rodman, Pamela Anderson and Dominique Swain, while others such as Paul McCartney and Charlize Theron have worn clothes in the campaign.
“It looks good,” Gonzalez said Wednesday, glancing at the photo on a reporter’s cell phone while standing at his locker. “It’s something me and my wife talked about. It’s something we feel very strongly about. That’s a great cause, especially when you educate yourself and find out what is happening out there in the world.”
The long-running PETA campaign has relied on star power in an attempt to persuade people not to wear furs or other clothing made from animal skins. The group claims that animals are often beaten, strangled, stomped, electrocuted and even skinned alive.
Gonzalez said he was appalled when he saw pictures and videos provided by the group.
“I’ve never done something like this before. I’m usually not a political person,” said the 10-time Pro Bowler, who holds the NFL record for most receptions by a tight end. “The pictures I saw were pretty gruesome, pretty cruel. If done the right way, maybe. But done the way I saw it, it’s definitely inhumane.”
Some of Gonzalez’s teammates had not seen the new ad until it was shown to them by reporters. But it’s likely to be all over the locker room before the week is out.
“Oh yeah,” receiver Roddy White said, breaking into a big smile, “we’re going to give him a hard time about that.”
Bring it on, said the 33-year-old Gonzalez, who’s in his first season with the Falcons after spending a dozen years with the Kansas City Chiefs.
“If you do something like this,” he said, “you better be prepared for the guys in the locker room. They’re going to let you know what they think about it.”
Chris Houston studied the picture closely before offering up a tongue-in-cheek critique.
“He’s got his Chad (Ochocinco), T.O. thing going on,” the cornerback said. Then, he acknowledged, “I’m looking more at her, though.”
Gonzalez was still playing for the Chiefs when Vick’s dogfighting crimes came to light before the 2007 season, but players such as White remember all the turmoil it caused. When the team reported for its first day of training camp that year, there were animal rights protesters at the front gate and a small plane circling overhead, pulling a banner that said: “New team name? Dog Killers?”
Vick never played another game for the Falcons.
He pleaded guilty to federal charges, served 20 months in prison and signed this season with the Philadelphia Eagles after the NFL lifted his suspension. He has played sparingly in a backup role.
The Falcons (5-3) are again in playoff contention after earning a surprising wild-card berth in 2008 with rookie Matt Ryan at quarterback.
“We’ve got some good stuff going on around here now,” White said.
“It’s not all this negative stuff with helicopters flying over the practice field and things like that.”
While prepared to take some good-natured gibes from his teammates, Gonzalez is serious about the anti-fur campaign. He became interested in animal right issues about three years ago and went on a vegan diet during the season, giving up meats or even foods that come from animals.
Gonzalez didn’t last long as a vegan. He abandoned it after three or four weeks, saying the diet caused him to “lose a little too much weight.” But he became more conscious of the meats he consumed and wound up writing a book about his methods, “The All-Pro Diet.”
If nothing else, Gonzalez and his wife have provided a different face (and then some) for those animal lovers who might have still harbored a negative image of the Falcons, remembering they were his employer when heinous crimes were being carried out against dogs.
“We’re going to get some good publicity out of this thing,” White said.