ATLANTA - Pro quarterback Michael Vick should be allowed to return to football after he serves his sentence for his role in a dogfighting operation, the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP said on Wednesday.
Chapter President R.L. White said that the Atlanta chapter supports Vick's decision to accept a plea bargain if it is in his best interest. However, White says Vick is a human being who has made a mistake and should be allowed to prove that he has learned from that mistake.
After that, White says Vick should be allowed to return to professional football - preferably with the Atlanta Falcons.
'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,' White said. 'We further ask the NFL, Falcons, and the sponsors not to permanently ban Mr. Vick from his ability to bring hours of enjoyment to fans all over this country.'
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.
Last month, state and local leaders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People urged the public not to rush to judgment in the Vick case. The civil rights organization said that animal rights groups, talk radio and the news media were vilifying the embattled athlete, and that his team and corporate sponsors were prematurely punishing Vick.
White questioned the credibility of Vick's co-defendants and said an admission of guilt may be more about cutting losses than the truth.
'At this point, you're not looking at guilt or innocence,' White said, referring to the possible harsher sentence Vick could have received had he taken his case to trial and been found guilty. 'You're thinking, 'What I better do is cut my losses and take a plea.' But if he saw this as the best thing to do at this point for his future, then I think he made the correct choice.'
He added that he does believe that Vick may be guilty of some wrongdoing, but could be taking responsibility for crimes that he did not commit.
White said he believed the more likely scenario is that Vick was an owner who was not fully aware of the kennel's activities.
White said he regretted that the plea deal will mean all of the facts of the case may never be known.
'Some have said things to save their own necks,' White said. 'Michael Vick has received more negative press than if he had killed a human being.'
White said he does not support dogfighting and that he considers it as bad as hunting.
'His crime is, it was a dog,' White said.