LOS ANGELES Outspoken comedian Whoopi Goldberg drew a scathing rebuke from animal rights activists on Tuesday for defending U.S. football star Michael Vick's role in dogfighting during her debut on ABC's talk show "The View."
"He's from the South, from the Deep South ... This is part of his cultural upbringing," Goldberg said of the Atlanta Falcons quarterback, whose recent fall from grace has been one of the most stunning in the history of U.S. sports.
Vick pleaded guilty last week to federal dogfighting charges, admitting he took part in an illegal, interstate enterprise known as Bad Newz Kennels and helped kill underperforming dogs.
The 27-year-old, who grew up in Virginia, faces up to five years in prison when sentenced in December. He has been suspended indefinitely by the National Football League.
"For a lot of people, dogs are sport," Goldberg said on the show. "Instead of just saying (Vick) is a beast and he's a monster, this is a kid who comes from a culture where this is not questioned."
Veteran "View" co-host Joy Behar took immediate issue with Goldberg.
"What part of the country is this? ... How about dog torturing and dog murdering?" she asked.
Goldberg's comments were denounced by Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, who disputed that dogfighting was a cultural fixture of the South or any other region.
"To suggest that there is some ethnic group or racial group or regional group that finds this acceptable is just not accurate," he told Reuters, adding that public opinion polls show opposition to dogfighting "is a universal value in America."
He noted that dogfighting is outlawed in all 50 states, and a felony in all but two -- Idaho and Wyoming.
The Oscar-winning actress' dogfighting remarks came on her first day as the new lead panelist on "The View," filling the seat vacated by actress and comedian Rosie O'Donnell in May.
Goldberg's debut signaled she was likely to continue the often-controversial dynamic O'Donnell brought to the show, which blends live chat, celebrity interviews and segments on fashion, health and lifestyles.