NFL Suspends Falcons' Vick Indefinitely
Saturday, August 25, 2007
The NFL suspended Michael Vick indefinitely yesterday after the Atlanta Falcons quarterback admitted in court papers that he was deeply involved in an illegal dogfighting venture, supplied most of the gambling money for the fights and endorsed the killing of poorly performing dogs by hanging or drowning.
In documents filed in U.S. District Court in Richmond, Vick said the operation began in 2001 and was based at his property in southeastern Virginia. As recently as April, Vick said he "agreed to the killing" of six to eight dogs, which were then executed through the "collective efforts" of him and his co-conspirators.
The documents do not say that Vick participated in the actual killings.
Shortly after the papers were filed, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell notified Vick of the suspension, which is without pay and takes effect immediately. "Your admitted conduct was not only illegal, but also cruel and reprehensible," Goodell wrote to Vick. "Your team, the NFL, and NFL fans have all been hurt by your actions."
Although Vick funded the operations of "Bad Newz Kennels" and provided most of the gambling money for fights that had purses in the thousands of dollars, court documents do not say that he personally placed bets. They also do not indicate that he profited from the fights on his property in Surry County, Va., saying instead that his co-conspirators pocketed winning purses.
Goodell noted the betting in announcing the suspensions. "Your plea agreement . . . demonstrate[s] your significant involvement in illegal gambling," Goodell wrote. "Even if you personally did not place bets, as you contend, 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 said he would review the suspension after all the legal proceedings against Vick are complete.
Vick is scheduled to plead guilty to federal dogfighting charges on Monday, but prosecutors took the unusual step of filing his plea agreement three days in advance because the case has attracted so much publicity. The agreement says Vick will plead guilty to a single conspiracy count and that prosecutors would recommend a sentence on the low end of federal guidelines, which both sides agree are 12 to 18 months in prison.
A source familiar with the plea negotiations had said Vick's attorneys hoped that the indirect wording of Vick's admissions on gambling and the killing of dogs would provide him with some measure of protection against possible state charges and an NFL suspension.
But Goodell seemed particularly concerned about the gambling nonetheless. The commissioner said Vick's reinstatement would depend on "the resolution of any other charges that may be brought . . ., your conduct going forward, the specifics of the sentence . . . and the extent to which you are truthful and cooperative with law enforcement and league staff who are investigating these matters."
Earlier yesterday, experts said Vick appeared to be splitting legal hairs in his plea agreement to help rehabilitate his public image. "These distinctions have no legal or moral significance whatsoever," said Steven D. Benjamin, a Richmond lawyer and past president of the Virginia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. "Saying that you supplied the money for a gambling enterprise but protesting that you did not yourself gamble is like admitting that you established a brothel but did not personally have sex with anyone."
Vick's lawyer had announced this week that the quarterback would plead guilty and "is prepared to take full responsibility" for the dogfighting venture, but specifics were not publicly available until yesterday. All three of his co-defendants have pleaded guilty, heightening pressure on Vick to do the same.