Prison was ‘a turning point,’ quarterback Vick says

Michael Vick speaks at a Philadelphia Eagles news  conference on Friday.
The Philadelphia Eagles welcomed Michael Vick back into the National Football League on Friday after the quarterback spent almost two years in federal prison on a felony dogfighting conviction.

Vick, formerly with the Atlanta Falcons, has signed a two-year deal with the Eagles. “I think everybody deserves a second chance,” Vick said at a news conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on Friday. “Now I want to be part of the solution and not the problem.” The league suspended Vick indefinitely in August 2007 after he pleaded guilty to a federal charge of bankrolling a dogfighting operation at a home he owned in Virginia. Vick, 29, was freed from federal prison at Leavenworth, Kansas, on May 20 and returned to his Virginia home to serve the last two months of his 23-month sentence in home confinement. Is this a good move “Everything that happened at that point in my life was wrong,” Vick said of his involvement with the dogfighting ring. “I had to reach a turning point. Prison definitely did it for me,” he said. Flanked by Eagles coach Andy Reid and former NFL coach Tony Dungy, who acted as a mentor to Vick after he was imprisoned, the newest Eagle vowed “to do all the right things.” “I want to be an ambassador to the NFL and the community,” he said. “I’m glad I got … a second chance. I won’t disappoint.” Dungy said that he thinks Vick can revive his career and turn his life around in Philadelphia but that the quarterback will be tested by fickle Eagles fans. “He is gonna have a lot of people who do not think he should be playing. He’s got to prove them wrong on the field and off the field,” Dungy said. Earlier reaction to Vick’s signing was mixed. The Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said Thursday night in a statement that it was “incredibly disappointed” at the news.

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“Philadelphia is a city of dog lovers and, most particularly, pit bull lovers,” said Susan Cosby, the organization’s chief executive officer. “To root for someone who participated in the hanging, drowning, electrocution and shooting of dogs will be impossible for many, no matter how much we would all like to see the Eagles go all the way.” However, Ed Sayres, president and CEO of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said in a statement that “[NFL] Commissioner Roger Goodell and the Philadelphia Eagles have granted Michael Vick a second chance, and the ASPCA expects Mr. Vick to express remorse for his actions, as well as display more compassion and sound judgment this time around than he did during his previous tenure with the NFL. “We hope that Mr. Vick uses his stature for the betterment of the community and the advancement of the issue of animal cruelty,” Sayres said. Reid said he knows that there are some fans who will not accept Vick. “I understand how that works,” he said. “But there’s enough of them that will, and then it’s up to Michael to prove that that change has taken place. I think he’s there. That’s what he wants to do.” He said Vick “seems very focused, and he wants to get his career back on track.” It is unclear what role Vick will play in the Eagles’ offense. But it was clear that the move had the blessing of Eagles starting quarterback Donovan McNabb. “I pretty much lobbied to get him here,” McNabb said. “Because everybody deserves a second chance.” The NFL reinstated Vick on a conditional basis last month. Vick “will be considered for full reinstatement and to play in regular-season games by Week 6 based on the progress he makes in his transition plan,” the league said in a statement last month. Week 6 of the NFL season is in October. Vick may participate in practices, workouts and meetings and may play in his club’s final two preseason games under the conditions of his reinstatement, the league said last month. “I fully understand that playing football in the NFL is a privilege, not a right, and I am truly thankful for [the] opportunity I have been given,” Vick said in a statement last month upon his reinstatement. Goodell said last month that Vick underwent tests, including a psychiatric evaluation, after requests from animal rights groups. Vick has also filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. At a hearing in that case, he told the judge he earned 12 cents an hour as an overnight janitor while in prison. Court documents released in Vick’s case showed that two of his co-defendants, who also pleaded guilty as part of a plea deal, said that Vick helped kill dogs that didn’t fight well and that all three men “executed approximately eight dogs” in ways that included hanging and drowning. The dogs were killed because they fared poorly in “testing” sessions held at Vick’s property. The Humane Society of the United States has said Vick offered to work with the organization on anti-dogfighting campaigns. Wayne Pacelle, the organization’s president, has said Vick was to work on programs aimed at preventing youths from getting involved in dogfighting and on programs to assist youths who have been involved. In November, Vick pleaded guilty to a state dogfighting charge and received a three-year suspended sentence. The Eagles are scheduled to play Vick’s former team, the Falcons, in Atlanta on December 6.