Falcons quarterback Michael Vick "is not a victim" and should be held responsible for his actions involving a dogfighting ring in Virginia, the national president of the NAACP said Thursday.
"He absolutely must account for what he has done," Dennis Courtland Hayes, interim president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said in an interview with The Associated Press. He had earlier given similar comments to NBC's "Today" show.
But Hayes cautioned against condemning the Atlanta star too quickly.
"It's real clear that Mr. Vick himself would acknowledge that he has made a mistake," Hayes said. "I think there is reason to believe in his redemption."
Hayes' comments came a day after the head of the NAACP's Atlanta chapter said Vick should be allowed to return to football after the case is resolved.
"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," Atlanta NAACP President R.L. White said.
Hayes said White and others who have come to Vick's defense are expressing an overarching frustration with disparities in the criminal justice system.
"People need to understand the backdrop as some in the African-American community make their expressions of support," Hayes said. "That backdrop includes anger and distrust with the criminal justice system that disproportionately pays attention to African-Americans and Hispanics.
"While no dog deserves to be mistreated, the backdrop includes the perception among some African-Americans that the criminal justice system treats them like animals and that nobody seems willing to do anything about the disparity."
Hayes, who said the national group did not have an official position on the case, said he didn't want to speculate about whether Vick was being treated differently because he is black.
"He may in fact be being treated better than some African-Americans and Hispanics who don't have the resources and financial means that he has," Hayes said. "On the other hand, there might be some of a different race or different ethnicity who might be treated a bit differently."
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 virtually 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.