ATLANTA – An NAACP leader said Michael Vick should be allowed to return to the NFL, preferably the Atlanta Falcons, after serving his sentence for his role in a dogfighting operation.
"As a society, we should aid in his rehabilitation and welcome a new Michael Vick back into the community without a permanent loss of his career in football," said R.L. White, president of the group's Atlanta chapter. "We further ask the NFL, Falcons, and the sponsors not to permanently ban Mr. Vick from his ability to bring hours of enjoyment to fans all over this country."
White said the Falcons quarterback made a mistake and should be allowed to prove he has learned from that mistake.
On Monday, Vick said through a lawyer that he will plead guilty to a federal charge of conspiracy to travel in interstate commerce in aid of unlawful activities and conspiracy to sponsor a dog in an animal fighting venture.
Three Vick associates have pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge and say Vick provided nearly all the gambling and operating funds for the "Bad Newz Kennels" dogfighting enterprise. Two of them also said Vick participated in executing at least eight underperforming dogs, raising the possibility of the animal cruelty charges.
Last month, state and local leaders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People urged the public not to rush to judgment in the Vick case. The civil rights organization said animal rights groups, talk radio and the news media were vilifying the embattled athlete, and that his team and corporate sponsors were prematurely punishing Vick.
White said the Atlanta chapter supports Vick's decision to accept a plea bargain if it's in his best interest, but he questioned the credibility of Vick's co-defendants, saying an admission of guilt might be more about cutting losses than the truth.
"At this point, you're not looking at guilt or innocence," White said, referring to the possible harsher sentence Vick could have received had he taken his case to trial and been found guilty. "You're thinking, 'What I better do is cut my losses and take a plea.' But if he saw this as the best thing to do at this point for his future, then I think he made the correct choice."
White said he regretted that the plea deal will mean all the facts of the case might never be known.
"Some have said things to save their own necks," White said. "Michael Vick has received more negative press than if he had killed a human being."
White said he does not support dogfighting and that he considers it as bad as hunting.
"His crime is, it was a dog," White said.