On Monday, Michael Vick formally pleaded guilty to "interstate conspiracy to violate gambling laws, animal fighting, and the purchase or transport of dogs across state lines for dogfighting." He tried to sidestep directly acknowledging that he personally bet on dogfights but that nuance--which is hardly believable anyway--means little considering Vick's central role in the entire dogfighting operation. In the words of ESPN's legal expert Lester Munson, "Vick purchased the land. Vick provided the funds to build the dogfighting venue. He was present when the scheme began in 2001, only eight weeks after he signed his enormous NFL contract. He was still involved at the end, when the police raided his compound on April 25. Without Vick, there would have been no Bad Newz Kennels. It was his money, his land, his leadership and his conspiracy." I don't think that is quite what Clinton Portis meant when he tried to dismiss Vick's guilt by saying that it did not matter because it only involved Vick's dogs and Vick's property (Portis later backed away from his misinformed statement).
Vick's sentencing hearing will take place on December 10. Federal guidelines suggest that Vick will receive 12-18 months in prison but Judge Henry Hudson pointedly told Vick on Monday that he is not bound by the guidelines: "The decision is mine." Munson explains that a judge can decide, based on the evidence in a case, to make an "upward departure" or a "downward departure" from what the guidelines indicate. Munson adds, "Vick agreed to an 'upward departure' in the sentencing calculation specifically because of 'the victimization and killing of pit bull dogs.' That is a costly admission of the killing of dogs because it can be the basis for additional time in prison." Munson expects Vick to be sentenced to 18-24 months in prison.
After Vick made his guilty plea, he took his first tentative step toward rehabilitating his public image by issuing a public apology. Vick began by saying, "For most of my life, I've been a football player, not a public speaker, so, you know, I really don't know, you know, how to say what I really want to say." Perhaps that is the reason that he has refrained from talking directly to the public on his own behalf--but I think that it was a mistake for him to wait this long to step in front of a microphone and comment about his case. Regardless of how eloquent Vick is, the simple act of publicly seeking contrition will make him a more sympathetic figure in many people's eyes (those who are 100% for him or 100% against him will not be swayed no matter what he does). In his statement, Vick apologized directly to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, Atlanta Falcons Coach Bobby Petrino and his Falcons teammates, saying that he is "ashamed and totally disappointed in myself to say the least" for initially lying about his involvement in the dogfighting operation.
Vick also apologized to "all the young kids out there" for what he termed his "immature acts." Although Vick said, "I take full responsibility for my actions," one cannot escape the impression that even now he does not fully grasp the magnitude of the cruelty involved in what he did. Toilet papering someone's house is an "immature act." Drowning and electrocuting dogs while funding an illegal dogfighting operation is a felony. Vick, as noted above, has been bankrolling these felonious activities for six years. That goes beyond being "immature"; he is an adult, not a rebellious teenager.
Vick did a reasonable job of expressing the sentiments that his advisers surely told him that he must convey: he accepted responsibility for his own actions, he apologized for at first lying about his involvement, he said "Dog fighting is a terrible thing, and I did reject it," he asked for the public's forgiveness and he pledged to use his upcoming "down time" to become a better person. Some people will no doubt say that Vick did not go far enough or sound truly sincere, while others will lament that Vick is being "brought down" and "publicly humiliated." The reality is that this statement was something that Vick simply had to make to have any chance to play football again at some point--and he would have been better off if he had issued it a few months ago before an overwhelming case was assembled against him. Saying the right things is just the first, easiest step for Vick. In the upcoming weeks, months and years he must prove, by his actions, that he has truly and permanently changed his ways. He does not, contrary to what some people say, automatically "deserve a second chance"; however, he deserves the opportunity to prove that he is worthy of getting one.