By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
The NFL announced a conditional reinstatement of Michael Vick on Monday, clearing the quarterback to sign with any interested team and participate in training camp. Commissioner Roger Goodell said he would decide by the sixth week of the season in mid-October whether to reinstate Vick fully and allow him to participate in regular season games.
The announcement came a week after Vick was released from federal custody. He has missed the last two NFL seasons while serving his federal sentence for his role in a dogfighting operation in Virginia, and he had been on indefinite suspension from the league.
"The intent here was to do the right thing in a young man's life and for the game of football in the NFL," Goodell said during a news conference in New York. "That's what I tried to do here."
Vick, 29, is a free agent after being released during the offseason by his former team, the Atlanta Falcons. It's not clear which NFL teams, if any, are interested in signing him. There were indications Monday evening that Vick's representatives were in contact with several teams.
If a club does sign him, he would be eligible to participate in practices, meetings, workouts and all other team-related activities immediately, and he would be permitted to play in the team's final two preseason games, the league announced.
Goodell said in a conference call with reporters that he could consider Vick's possible reinstatement before the season's sixth week. Vick is eligible to be paid by any team that signs him for any regular season games he misses before a final decision about full reinstatement, according to a league official.
It's unlikely, however, any team that signs Vick would agree to pay him for missed games. According to the NFL, former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy agreed to work with Vick as an adviser.
Dungy is among those who lobbied publicly in recent weeks for Vick's reinstatement, saying he deserved another chance in the NFL. Dungy also visited Vick in prison.
Vick released a written statement through his agent, Joel Segal, in which he expressed gratitude to Goodell and Dungy, and said, "I fully understand that playing football in the NFL is a privilege, not a right, and I am truly thankful for the opportunity I have been given.
"As you can imagine, the last two years have given me time to re-evaluate my life, mature as an individual and fully understand the terrible mistakes I have made in the past and what type of life I must lead moving forward. Again, I want to thank the commissioner for the chance to return to the game I love and the opportunity to become an example of positive change."
Vick remains on probation. He served the final stages of his federal sentence under house arrest in Hampton, Va., after being imprisoned in Leavenworth, Kan.
DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFL Players Association, said Vick was pleased to be given the chance to sign with a team.
"I spoke with Mike earlier today," Smith said in a written statement released by the union. "I know he is thrilled to have the opportunity to come back. We are pleased that he is on the right path to return not only to the field, but as a contributing member of his community. I -- and our community of players -- will continue to support him as he looks to make the most of his second chance."
Smith met with Vick last Tuesday, the day before Vick met with Goodell at a security firm in New Jersey.
"What Michael did was cruel and horrific," Goodell said Monday during his conference call with reporters. "We recognize that, and I think Michael recognizes that. . . . I took this process very seriously, and it was extremely thorough. I had to do what I thought was proper and fair. . . . I'm trying to give Michael an opportunity to prove to me and others that he deserves to play in the NFL again. It's in his hands now."
Goodell wrote to Vick in a letter that "this step-by-step approach is not meant to be a further punishment and should not be viewed as such," according to the league announcement. Goodell warned Vick in the letter that Vick's "margin for error is extremely limited."
Under the terms of the NFL's personal conduct policy, Goodell has total authority to determine the punishment for a player for off-field misconduct. The policy empowers the commissioner to impose a lifetime ban on a player for the most serious misconduct.
"I urge you to take full advantage of the resources available to support you and to dedicate yourself to rebuilding your life and your career," Goodell wrote to Vick, according to the league.
Goodell wrote that he expects Vick to avoid further legal trouble and abide by the court-imposed terms of his release, including a prohibition from owning a dog. Goodell also wrote, according to the NFL, that he will hold Vick accountable for adhering to a written plan submitted to Goodell by Vick about plans for his living arrangements, managing his finances, undergoing counseling and working with the Humane Society.
Goodell said the NFL had consulted with animal rights groups during its evaluation of Vick. Goodell also said he spoke to current and former players and coaches and others before making his decision, and was given a wide range of opinions. He indicated he spoke a couple times Monday to Dungy, once with Vick involved, and twice during the day to Smith. Goodell said he knew he wouldn't satisfy all observers and understood the contention that Vick shouldn't be allowed to reenter the league.