RICHMOND, Va. (AP)—Suspended NFL star Michael Vick(notes) left a Kansas prison before dawn Wednesday to begin home confinement in Virginia, one of his attorneys said, the latest step on a journey that Vick hopes will lead to his reinstatement.
Vick, who turns 29 in June, slipped past waiting cameras and reporters undetected to leave a federal penitentiary in Leavenworth after serving 19 months for financing a dogfighting ring. He was headed to Virginia by car to begin two months of home confinement at his five-bedroom house in Hampton before a scheduled release from federal custody July 20.
He was accompanied by his fiancee, Kijafa Frink, and they were traveling back to Virginia with several members of a security team provided by Vick’s team of lawyers and advisers, a person familiar with the plans told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to comment on the matter.
The traveling party also includes a videographer recording the journey, the person said, although what Vick plans to do with the footage hasn’t been made clear.
The drive from Leavenworth to Hampton is expected to take about 19 hours.
“It’s a happy day for him to be starting this part of the process,” Larry Woodward, Vick’s Virginia-based attorney, said. “He looks forward to meeting the challenges he has to meet.”
Ultimately, Vick’s goal is to rehabilitate his image and return to the NFL, but Woodward said his first priority “is spending time with his children and his loved ones.”
Vick has considerable work to do to get back into playing condition after being out of the game two years. His agent, Joel Segal, said his career won’t be Vick’s immediate focus. “Football is on the back-burner for now,” he said.
Commissioner Roger Goodell, who suspended Vick indefinitely in August 2007, reiterated Wednesday he will review Vick’s status after his criminal case is concluded. He has said Vick will have to persuade him and the public that he is genuinely sorry for his crime, has been changed by his experience and that he’s committed to leading a different life.
Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank said Wednesday that Vick has paid his debt to society and merits a second chance, although that chance won’t come with the Falcons.
“We’ve made it clear Michael’s not going to play for us again,” Blank said. “Right now his salary is being tolled so it has no effect on our cap, beyond the allocation of signing bonus which happens under any circumstances. So we’ll deal with it at the time we think is correct.”
Vick, once the NFL’s highest-paid player, is scheduled to report to a probation officer Friday in Norfolk, Woodward said. He will be allowed to leave home to work a $10-an-hour job as a laborer for a construction company and for other limited purposes approved by his probation officer. He will serve three years’ probation after his home confinement ends.
The Humane Society of the United States said Vick met its president recently in prison and wants to work on a program aimed at eradicating dogfighting among urban teens.
Even if he is reinstated, Vick’s NFL future is uncertain. Is there a team willing to endure the wrath of some fans in exchange for a player who may no longer be one of the NFL’s most electrifying performers?
A public backlash isn’t the only risk. By all accounts, Vick has tried to stay in good physical shape, but there’s no telling how much his skills have eroded after two missed seasons.
Vick said in bankruptcy court last month he believes he can play another 10-to-12 years. The NFL career average is only 3.2 years—it’s much longer for quarterbacks, though—and Vick already has played six.
One certainty is that he will not command the kind of money he once earned. Vick supplemented his 10-year, $130 million Falcons contract with several lucrative endorsements, all lost because of the dogfighting. The minimum salary for a player with Vick’s years of experience is $620,000.
Vick filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy plan that would have allowed him to keep the first $750,000 of his annual pay, with a percentage of any amount over that going to his creditors. A judge has rejected that plan, in part because of uncertainty about Vick’s NFL future, and ordered him to submit a new one.
His bankruptcy lawyers have complained about the difficulty of handling Vick’s highly complex bankruptcy case while their client was in prison 1,200 miles away. Having Vick back in the area should help them wrap up the Chapter 11 reorganization case.
Vick’s startling fall began in April 2007 when authorities conducting a drug investigation of his cousin raided the former Virginia Tech star’s Surry County property and seized dozens of dogs, some injured, and equipment commonly used in dogfighting.
A federal indictment issued about three months later charged Vick and three of his “Bad Newz Kennels” associates with an interstate dogfighting conspiracy. Vick initially denied any involvement, and all four men pleaded innocent. All four eventually admitted their crimes and were sentenced to prison. Vick’s sentence was the longest.
The gruesome details outlined in the indictment—dogs were hanged, drowned and electrocuted—fueled public outrage but also brought unprecedented attention to the problem of dogfighting, prompting several states to tighten their laws.
However, some supporters also remained loyal to Vick, contending that while he made mistakes he was being singled out for harsh treatment because of his celebrity status.
Vick also pleaded guilty to a state dogfighting charge and was given a three-year suspended sentence.
Associated Press Writers Larry O’Dell in Richmond, Va., John Marshall in Leavenworth, Kan., AP Sports Writers Tim Reynolds in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Fred Goodall in Tampa, Fla., contributed to this report.
By TIM REYNOLDS, AP Sports Writer
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP)—Arthur Blank won’t bring Michael Vick(notes) back to Atlanta.
That doesn’t mean the Falcons owner wouldn’t want to see the tarnished quarterback get a second NFL chance.
Hours after Vick left a federal penitentiary after serving most of a 23-month sentence for financing a dogfighting ring, Blank—who once gave Vick a $130 million contract—said Wednesday the once-charismatic star is taking positive steps by wanting to work with humane societies and making other changes in his life.
“I believe in second chances,” Blank said shortly before the NFL owners’ meetings ended in South Florida. “I believe in redemption.”
Even for Vick, who was clearly a Blank favorite when he wore No. 7 for Atlanta and not No. 33765-183 in the federal prison system. Blank famously pushed Vick on the field in a wheelchair when the quarterback had a broken leg in 2003, and exchanged letters with the player during Vick’s time in prison.
The working relationship—player and owner—ended with Vick’s betrayal. The personal relationship, somehow, has persevered.
“I have not spoken to him face to face,” Blank said. “I have indicated that I would do anything that I can do on a personal level that would be constructive and productive for Michael and that still hasn’t changed. But we’ve certainly been in communication.”
But Vick won’t be returning to the Falcons as a player.
“We’ve made it clear Michael’s not going to play for us again, as you know,” Blank said. “Right now his salary is being tolled so it has no effect on our cap, beyond the allocation of signing bonus which happens under any circumstances. So we’ll deal with it at the time we think is correct.”
Vick slipped quietly out of the prison in Leavenworth, Kan., after serving 19 months. Accompanied by his fiancee, Vick was driving home to Virginia to begin two months of home confinement at his five-bedroom house in Hampton before a scheduled released from federal custody on July 20.
Sometime after that, he’ll meet with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who’ll then start the process of deciding if Vick should be allowed to return to the NFL.
“I don’t know what else I can add,” Goodell said Wednesday. “Once he’s concluded that, I will make a judgment based on what he tells me and what I can determine from speaking to others and a final background check on this and make a determination at the right time.”
No teams have publicly said they would welcome Vick on their club, for several reasons—the biggest of which is his contract rights are still owned by the Falcons, who may seek to trade him or give him his outright release if Goodell reinstates the former Virginia Tech star.
If a team takes a chance on Vick, that club will surely have to deal with a public-relations uproar.
“We’re not looking at that situation. We don’t have an interest there,” Colts owner Jim Irsay said.
But at the same time, Irsay suggested Vick should have a chance to redeem himself.
“It’s always great when you hear about the stories of people coming back from (mistakes) early in their life and turning things around,” Irsay said.