NEW YORK (AP) – Michael Vick was ordered by commissioner Roger Goodell on Monday to stay away from the Atlanta Falcons’ training camp until the league reviews the dogfighting charges against him.
“While it is for the criminal justice system to determine your guilt or innocence, it is my responsibility as commissioner of the National Football League to determine whether your conduct, even if not criminal, nonetheless violated league policies, including the Personal Conduct Policy,” Goodell said in a letter to the quarterback.
The NFL said Vick would still get his preseason pay and Goodell told the Falcons to withhold any disciplinary action of their own until the league’s review was completed.
Goodell told Vick the league would complete its review as quickly as possible and that he expected full cooperation. The review is expected to involve conversations with federal law enforcement officials so the NFL can determine the strength of the case against Vick.
The Falcons open camp on Thursday, the same day Vick is scheduled to be arraigned in Richmond, Va., on charges of sponsoring a dogfighting operation. The team declined comment other than to say a news conference was scheduled Tuesday at owner Arthur Blank’s office in Atlanta.
Vick, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2001 draft, last season became the first quarterback ever to rush for more than 1,000 yards.
After his indictment last week, the NFL’s position was that it would monitor developments and allow the legal process to “determine the facts.”
Since then, pressure has been mounting on the league and the Falcons, particularly from animal-rights groups.
PETA – People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals – demonstrated at Falcons’ headquarters in Flowery Branch, Ga., on Monday and did the same outside NFL offices in New York last week. At the same time, Goodell was meeting with officials from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The league and the ASPCA are working on a program to educate players about the proper treatment of animals.
Activists also put pressure on companies that have endorsements deals with Vick to sever their ties. Nike said it would not release a fifth signature shoe, the Air Zoom Vick V, this summer. Nike spokesman Dean Stoyer said the four shoe products and three shirts that currently bear Vick’s name will remain in stores.
Goodell’s order came down after lengthy discussions involving the league office, the Falcons and the NFL Players’ Association. Gene Upshaw, the NFLPA’s executive director, was one of the first to side with Goodell when he instituted the strong Personal Conduct Policy after a season of repeated misdeeds by players.
Disciplining players has turned out to be Goodell’s main focus since taking over last Sept. 1 for the retired Paul Tagliabue.
Since the end of last season, he has used the new policy to suspend Adam “Pacman” Jones of the Tennessee Titans for the entire 2007 season; and Chris Henry of Cincinnati and former Chicago Bear Tank Johnson for eight games each.
Those calling for Vick’s suspension have noted that Jones, who faces charges of coercion in Las Vegas stemming from a shooting that left a man paralyzed, wasn’t convicted when he was suspended.
However, league officials said there were mitigating circumstances in the Jones case.
In January, he accepted a plea agreement to dismiss public intoxication and disorderly conduct charges in Tennessee if he behaved himself for six months. League officials say that the charges in Las Vegas voided that agreement and were a major factor in his suspension.
The indictment of Vick alleges that about eight young dogs were put to death at his Surry County home after they were found not ready to fight. They were killed “by hanging, drowning and/or slamming at least one dog’s body to the ground.”
Purses for the fights ranged from hundreds of dollars to the thousands, and participants and spectators often placed side bets on the outcome, according to the indictment
If convicted, Vick and three others charged with him could face up to six years in prison, and $350,000 in fines.