“Michael wishes to apologize again to everyone who has been hurt by this matter,” Billy Martin said last week, referring to his celebrity client, dog killer Michael Vick.

Does that include the eight dogs he killed and the countless others he abused? Does it include the ones placed on treadmills, whose jaws were pried open with sticks or those that were fastened to the “rape stand,” a device found on Vick’s property to hold down female dogs so they could be forced to breed?

Vick is hoping to spend less than a year in prison as a result of his agreement to plead guilty. He had been charged with two counts of conspiracy by a federal grand jury – one to travel in interstate commerce to engage in unlawful activity and another to engage in dogfighting — that could have cost him up to five years in prison. By pleading guilty, he avoided not only the ugly details that would have come out at trial, but also a possible superceding indictment with additional charges, as well as the longer sentence that is the rule in criminal cases when you lose after trial rather than plead guilty beforehand. Possible state charges are still pending.

According to news reports, prosecutors initially demanded a sentence of 18 to 36 months, while Vick’s defense attorneys pushed for something under a year. In the end, it will be up to the federal judge who accepts the plea on August 27 to decide the sentence, and up to the NFL to decide whether he will ever play again.

I hope the judge throws the book at him. I hope the NFL bans him forever.

Technically, the big problem for Vick in returning to professional sports is not that he killed and abused dogs, but that he participated in betting on them. It reminds me of when, after I was raped with an ice pick to my throat, the attacker went ahead and also stole my wallet. Armed robbery, the police told me afterward, was a much cleaner charge than rape. I was stunned. It might be “cleaner,” but it doesn’t begin to measure the true evil betrayed by the predator.

The reason I cannot abide Michael Vick is not that he gambled; it’s that only an evil sub-human would treat helpless dogs the way he did, hanging and drowning the ones that didn’t test well, and abusing the ones that did.

It is what this says about the man that troubles me.

Whenever a pit bull comes into the local park where I take my two much-loved beauties, Judy Jarvis Estrich and Molly Emily Estrich, the other dog owners and I carefully scrutinize its owners. American Staffordshire terriers, as some call them, can be wonderful pets if properly trained. Or not. It only takes a minute or two to tell the difference, and it totally depends on how the owner has raised them. It’s not the dog’s fault; it’s the owners’. Michael Vick is the worst of the worst.

He doesn’t understand what sport is, which is why he should never be allowed to play in the pros again.

I understand personal weaknesses of players and appreciate the pressures of competitive sports. When an athlete resorts to steroids or uses drugs, he obviously brings shame to the team and the league. But in such cases, he is hurting himself, not innocent animals that depend on him. Vick’s crime is of a far more vicious sort, revealing a character for which there can be no excuse and no forgiveness.

Vick was one of the highest paid players in professional football. Kids bought his jersey in droves. His latest contract extension, a 10-year deal for $130 million, included record-breaking bonuses of $37 million. He was making more money than he could ever spend.

And this was how he spent it? This was his idea of fun?

The NFL says it will continue to investigate Vick’s conduct in relation to its own code of conduct. The Atlanta Falcons, the team paying him all that money, is withholding judgment, waiting to see if the plea, in the words of Falcons owner Arthur Blank, will allow Vick “to get this behind him as quickly as he can.”

As far as many of us who are pet owners and animal lovers are concerned, he will never get this behind him. Nor should he.

Susan Estrich is a syndicated columnist.

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