Nonsense Headlines From The '80s That Made People Fear Pit Bulls
Often stereotyped as "dangerous," pit bulls have a bad yet undeserved reputation. The unfounded fear can be so pervasive that certain towns and cities will ban dogs who show pit bull characteristics - a wide head and stocky body. But it wasn't always so, writes Karen Delise, a researcher for the National Canine Research Council, in her book "The Pit Bull Placebo." Vintage photographs, for instance, show pit bulls seemingly babysitting young children.
But by the 1980s, warnings about pit bulls fanned throughout newspapers and magazines. In July 1987 alone, three magazines graced the nation with the following dumb headlines:
1. Sports Illustrated ran this cover:
2. People magazine wrote that pit bulls had an "Instinct for the Kill":
3. Time magazine called pit bulls "Time Bombs on Legs":
This canine prejudice wasn't only in magazines. Take this sampling of newspaper headlines:
Pit bull terriers: Misunderstood puppy, or a shark on paws? The Ottawa Citizen, April 1987 Jaws, The Backyard Version, Newsday, June 1987 Time to clamp down on the pit bull menace, Houston Chronicle, July 1987 Pit bulls a national menace, Ann Landers, October 1987
At the end of the 1980s, a Centers For Disease Control report on the dangers of certain breeds and dog types "sealed the fate of the pit bulls," Delise wrote. The statistics were pulled from media reports, however, and the identification of a dog as a pit bull is notoriously difficult.
Decades later, pit bulls are still dealing with a tarnished reputation. In 2012, for instance, McDonald's pulled a commercial that called petting (albeit stray) pit bulls "risky." (To be fair, you shouldn't pet unfamiliar dogs of any shape or size.) But there are some positive changes - like media coverage focused on defending the dogs, rather than vilifying them. As Joshua Holland wrote at Alternet in 2013:
Pit bulls are among dozens of strong, muscular breeds of canine. All are capable of doing damage to humans if they're not properly socialized and supervised. Most dogs do not, even when they've been neglected or abused. None are inherently monstrous - they are all just dogs.
For pit bulls and their fans, the future is looking a little bit brighter, too. The CDC and the White House do not support laws that target specific breeds or types of dogs, and communities around the U.S. are turning down rules that would single out pit bulls.
And the photo that Sports Illustrated used in its coverage of Michael Vicks' pit bulls in 2008? Perfect.
This post has been updated to include additional examples of late-'80s headlines.