Goodell Hands Vick Inquiry To Ex-Justice Dept. Official

Commissioner Roger Goodell, left, with players' union chief Gene Upshaw, appointed Eric Holder, a former U.S. deputy attorney general, to oversee the NFL's review of federal dogfighting charges against Michael Vick.
Commissioner Roger Goodell, left, with players' union chief Gene Upshaw, appointed Eric Holder, a former U.S. deputy attorney general, to oversee the NFL's review of federal dogfighting charges against Michael Vick. (By Katherine Frey -- The Washington Post)
By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 25, 2007

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell appointed a former U.S. deputy attorney general yesterday to oversee the league's review of the dogfighting charges against Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, and said he will take as much time as he deems necessary to determine whether he will allow Vick to rejoin the Falcons and play during the upcoming season.

"I think the most important thing for us is to make sure that we are intelligent and thoughtful and do the work," Goodell said. "We owe that to everyone involved with the case. There's obviously a great deal of interest in this. It's struck an emotional chord. We hear our fans very clearly. From the moment you read that indictment, it turns your stomach, and we're extremely disappointed that a player is alleged to be involved with that. And we take that very seriously."

While Goodell was speaking to reporters in Washington, Falcons owner Arthur Blank said at the Falcons' training facility in Flowery Branch, Ga., that he had been prepared to suspend Vick without pay for the first four games of the season before Goodell intervened Monday and told Blank to withhold disciplinary action until the league's review is completed. Blank said the Falcons would decide whether to allow Vick to play for them this season -- or ever again -- based on developments in the case.

"We don't know where things will go from here," Blank said at a news conference. "New information, whether it be from the commissioner's completing his review or from further developments related to the indictment, will determine that."

Vick and three associates were indicted by a federal grand jury last week on conspiracy charges related to their alleged operation of a dogfighting ring based on a property owned by Vick in southeastern Virginia. Vick is scheduled to make his initial court appearance tomorrow afternoon in Richmond while the Falcons are conducting their opening practice of training camp. On Monday, Goodell ordered Vick not to report to training camp pending the completion of the league review that will determine whether Vick will be suspended under the NFL's personal conduct policy.

According to league officials, the review will be conducted by members of the NFL's security staff and D.C. lawyer Eric Holder, a partner with Covington & Burling. Holder formerly was the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. He was appointed deputy attorney general by President Clinton in 1997, and served briefly as the acting attorney general under President Bush. Holder's firm is the NFL's outside counsel. He is the second prominent D.C. lawyer to become involved in the case this week. On Monday, Vick hired William R. "Billy" Martin to represent him.

Goodell said he might meet with Vick as part of the league's review of the case. He said league representatives will speak to prosecutors and Vick's attorneys to determine if there are "indisputable facts" that would, on their own, qualify as violations of the NFL's conduct policy. The toughened conduct policy implemented by Goodell in April empowers the commissioner to suspend a player even if the player has not been convicted of a crime.

"I thought it was appropriate as a next step that what we do is tell Michael that he should not report to camp so that we can continue our review of the situation as quickly as possible, make some determinations about how it fits within the personal conduct policy and then make the next step from there," Goodell said.

Goodell, speaking after a meeting with retired players at the offices of the NFL Players Association, called dogfighting "despicable" and "incomprehensible" and said he was surprised by the allegations against Vick in the indictment. He said he was sensitive to Vick's right to a presumption of innocence but thought it was "necessary" to prohibit Vick from reporting to training camp.

"We are not trying to circumvent the legal process or the criminal process," Goodell said. "We respect that and think it needs to move forward. On the other hand, the interest of myself and Gene [Upshaw, the executive director of the players' union] . . . is the National Football League. What are we going to do that is responsible to the National Football League and our fans?"

Upshaw said: "This is done a step at a time. Whatever that next step is will be determined by the review."

Blank, seated alongside Falcons President-General Manager Rich McKay and Bobby Petrino, the team's first-year coach, said he agreed with Goodell's decision to bar Vick from training camp until the review is completed. Falcons officials said they would considered a wide range of responses to Vick's indictment, including releasing him or urging him to accept a paid leave of absence. Blank said he didn't consider a paid leave of absence appropriate and settled instead on a four-game suspension for conduct detrimental to the team, the maximum suspension that a franchise can impose upon a player under the terms of the sport's collective bargaining agreement.

The Falcons drafted a letter to inform Vick of the suspension, according to Blank, before Goodell intervened Monday. If such a suspension had been imposed, Vick would have participated in training camp, according to Goodell.

"My counsel to Michael would be these charges are extremely serious," Blank said. "This is not about him playing football in 2007. This is about him having a life. . . . This behavior is really horrific, but they are charges at this point."

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