ALLEN PARK, MICH.—Roger Goodell wants to talk football. Michael Vick keeps getting in the way.
The NFL commissioner, making a tour of training camps, raved about Detroit Lions coach Rod Marinelli and his players after visiting them Thursday. He spoke to them mostly about their responsibilities as players.
As soon as Goodell started taking questions during a news conference, however, he was asked about Vick. And the questions kept coming.
There has been an unrelenting drumbeat of news concerning Vick, who is charged with running a dogfighting ring on his Surry County property. Goodell insists this is not eclipsing enthusiasm about the game itself.
"I don't think it's overshadowing the season," he said. "I think our fans are excited about football, but I understand the interest in the story."
Vick is facing increased pressure to strike a deal with prosecutors in his federal dogfighting conspiracy case.
"We're going to do what we always said we were going to do, which is rely on the facts," Goodell said. "If there is some type of a plea agreement, then we will obviously take the time to understand what that plea is and we'll see how it fits into our personal-conduct (policy)."
Goodell barred Vick from taking part in training camp while the league investigates. The commissioner said the league is monitoring talks between Vick's lawyers and prosecutors. He wants the legal process to run its course before he rules on Vick's future in the league.
Under NFL policy, a player can be banned for life for illegal gambling or associating with gamblers, and Vick might face that penalty.
"(The gambling) is certainly an issue," Goodell said after meeting with the Cleveland Browns at their year-round training facility. "Law enforcement may be concerned about certain things about this. We may be concerned about other aspects of this. That's why we want to evaluate what the government has. We don't know all of the facts on that. Michael's team may not know all the facts at this point in time."
The grisly details of the case have fueled public protests against Vick and have cost him some lucrative endorsement deals.
Vick's charges have also hurt the NFL's image in an offseason also marked by suspensions of Adam "Pacman" Jones, Tank Johnson and Chris Henry for off-field conduct. Goodell contends just four players out of about 2,000 in the league are generating most of the scrutiny.
"I've said to Pacman and any player, 'You have to earn your way back into the National Football League and you have to do it through your conduct,' " Goodell said. "It's not about what you tell the commissioner, or what you tell anyone. It's your conduct and your activities. I was disappointed with some of the activities that Pacman got involved this spring, after we had met and had a lot of discussions.
"Michael knows exactly how I feel."
Goodell's visit was well received by the Browns. Several of the players asked questions following the commissioner's 15-minute talk that touched upon subjects ranging from concussions to conduct.
"It was a treat. It broke camp up for 15 or 20 minutes," wide receiver Joe Jurevicius said. "Obviously, he's a man with a lot of power and he'll be the face of the NFL for a while. He's going to do a lot of great things and he came to say that he's not doing this to hurt anybody. He's doing this to help us."
During the Browns' two-hour practice during a humid afternoon, Goodell and former Cleveland quarterback Bernie Kosar mingled with fans, who had their own questions and comments.
Goodell has sensed nothing but positive feedback and support during his tour of the camps.
"I'm proud of our players. I'm proud of what they do in the communities and on the field," he said. "I think more has to be discussed on that. We have always talked about the game - having the focus stay on football. We're here now and it's football time." "