No matter how nuanced his confession for involvement in dogfighting, Michael Vick got no leniency Friday from the NFL.
Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended the Atlanta Falcons quarterback indefinitely without pay, just hours after Vick filed a plea agreement that portrayed him as less involved than three co-defendants and guilty mainly of poor judgment for associating with them.
Vick acknowledged bankrolling gambling on the dogfights, but denied placing bets himself or taking any of the winnings. He admitted that dogs not worthy of the pit were killed "as a result of the collective efforts" of himself and two co-defendants.
Goodell wasn't moved and didn't bother to wait until Monday, when U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson will formally accept the plea and set a sentencing date likely to land Vick in prison for one to five years.
The commissioner said Vick's admitted conduct was "not only illegal but also cruel and reprehensible." Even if he didn't personally place bets, Goodell said, "your actions in funding the betting and your association with illegal gambling both violate the terms of your NFL player contract and expose you to corrupting influences in derogation of one of the most fundamental responsibilities of an NFL player."
Goodell freed the Falcons to "assert any claims or remedies" to recover $22 million of Vick's signing bonus from the 10-year, $130 million contract he signed in 2004.
The commissioner didn't speak to Vick but based his decision on the court filings. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Goodell may meet with Vick in the future, and Goodell said he would review the suspension after all the legal proceedings.
"You have engaged in conduct detrimental to the welfare of the NFL and have violated the league's personal conduct policy," Goodell told Vick in a letter after meeting in New York with Falcons president and general manager Rich McKay.
"You are now justifiably facing consequences for the decisions you made and the conduct in which you engaged. Your career, freedom and public standing are now in the most serious jeopardy," Goodell wrote. "I hope that you will be able to learn from this difficult experience and emerge from it better prepared to act responsibly and to make the kinds of choices that are expected of a conscientious and law abiding citizen."
Falcons owner Arthur Blank supported Goodell's decision and said:
"We hope that Michael will use this time, not only to further address his legal matters, but to take positive steps to improve his personal life."
Nike, meantime, said it terminated its contract with Vick.
Earlier Friday in Richmond, Va., a "summary of facts" signed by Vick was filed along with his written plea agreement on a federal dogfighting conspiracy charge.
"While Mr. Vick is not personally charged with or responsible for committing all of the acts alleged in the indictment, as with any conspiracy charge, he is taking full responsibility for his actions and the actions of the others involved," the defense team said in a written statement after the plea agreement was filed.
"Mr. Vick apologizes for his poor judgment in associating himself with those involved in dog fighting and realizes he should never have been involved in this conduct," the statement said.
Vick and his lawyers said his involvement was limited when it came to the enterprise known as the Bad Newz Kennels.
"Our position has been that we are going to try to help Judge Hudson understand all the facts and Michael's role," Vick's defense attorney, Billy Martin, said in telephone interview. "Michael's role was different than others associated with this incident."
Vick's summary of facts said he provided most of the Bad Newz Kennels operation and gambling monies, echoing language in plea agreements by the three co-defendants — Tony Taylor, Purnell Peace and Quanis Phillips.
When the dogs won, the statement said, gambling proceeds were generally shared by Taylor, Peace and Phillips.
"Vick did not gamble by placing side bets on any of the fights. Vick did not receive any of the proceeds of the purses that were won by Bad Newz Kennels," the court document said.
According to the statement, Vick also was involved with the others in killing six to eight dogs that did not perform well in testing sessions last April. The dogs were executed by drowning or hanging.
"Vick agrees and stipulates that these dogs all died as a result of the collective efforts" of Vick, Phillips and Peace, the statement said.
In the plea agreement, the government committed to recommending a sentence on the low end of the federal sentencing guideline range of a year to 18 months. However, the conspiracy charge is punishable by up to five years in prison, and the judge is not bound by any recommendation or by the guidelines.
Hudson has a reputation for imposing stiff sentences, according to lawyers who have appeared in his court. The judge will set a sentencing date at Monday's hearing.
Martin said Vick will "speak to the public and explain his actions." Though he declined to say when and where, the Tom Joyner Morning Show, a syndicated program based in Dallas, said it will have a live interview with Vick on Tuesday.
The case began in April when authorities conducting a drug investigation of Vick's cousin raided a Surry County property owned by Vick and found dozens of dogs, some injured, and equipment commonly used in dogfighting.
A federal indictment issued in July charged Vick, Peace, Phillips and Taylor with an interstate dogfighting conspiracy. Vick initially denied any involvement, and all four men pleaded innocent. The three co-defendants later pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against Vick.
Taylor was the first to change his plea, saying Vick financed the dogfighting ring's gambling and operations. Peace and Phillips soon followed, alleging that Vick joined them in killing dogs that did not measure up in test fights.
The sickening details outlined in the indictment and other court papers prompted a public backlash against Vick, who had been one of the NFL's most popular players.
Animal-rights groups mobilized against Vick — even protesting at NFL headquarters in New York — and sponsors dropped him.
"It is fitting that the NFL has suspended him," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States. "He's now a role model for something terrible, and it's not appropriate that he suit up in an NFL uniform."