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Remorseful Vick enters guilty plea

Times Staff Writer

Michael Vick apologized Monday for his involvement in dogfighting and vowed to redeem himself.

Shortly after entering a guilty plea on a federal dogfighting conspiracy charge -- one that leads to a Dec. 10 sentencing date and probable prison term -- the suspended Atlanta Falcons star made his first public comments on the situation.

Speaking softly and sounding neither rehearsed nor overly emotional, Vick stood at a hotel lectern and apologized to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, the Falcons and “to all the young kids out there for my immature acts.”

“I offer my deepest apologies to everybody out there in the world who was affected by this whole situation,” he said. “And if I’m more disappointed with myself than anything, it’s because of all the young people, young kids, that I’ve let down, who look at Michael Vick as a role model.

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“And to have to go through this and put myself in this situation . . . I hope every young kid out there in the world watching this interview right now who’s been following the case will use me as an example to using better judgment and making better decisions.”

He added: “I will redeem myself. I have to.”

Vick did not take questions. He made specific reference to dogfighting only once, calling it “a terrible thing,” and saying, “I reject it.”

U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson is considering whether to accept a deal that calls for a sentence on the low end of 12 to 18 months. The sentencing hearing will take place on the same day the Falcons play New Orleans on “Monday Night Football.”

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Vick admitted in court papers that he financed an illegal dogfighting operation at his property in Surry, Va., participated in the killing of poor-performing dogs, and funded gambling on the fights.

Vick denied any involvement in dogfighting when allegations surfaced in April, but on Monday he admitted he previously was “not honest and forthright” when discussing his role.

The Falcons said they did not plan to immediately cut Vick and are sorting through their options. He will remain on the roster, on the suspended list.

“This is not as simple as standing here today and saying we’re terminating Michael’s rights,” Falcons owner Arthur Blank said in a news conference at his Atlanta office after Vick’s plea. “We simply cannot do that. It’s not in our fans’ or franchise’s best interest. It would be a short-term fix at the expense of our long-term success.”

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Blank, who called Vick’s statement “heartfelt,” said the player had “let down his fans and his team . . . and betrayed the trust of many people.”

Rich McKay, president of the Falcons, said the team would “aggressively” attempt to recoup bonus money paid to Vick, who in 2004 received a 10-year, $130-million contract extension. According to various reports, the team will try to recover as much as $29 million of about $37 million Vick received in guaranteed money.

“We don’t do this in a way that’s spiteful at all,” McKay said. “We do this in a way that we feel is in the best interest of our football team.”

Blank did not rule out Vick’s returning to the Falcons after serving jail time or other disciplinary measures, should Goodell lift the indefinite suspension imposed last week.

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On Monday, the Falcons played their next-to-last exhibition game, against the Cincinnati Bengals with Joey Harrington starting at quarterback. Harrington threw for two touchdowns as Atlanta won, 24-19.

Vick still faces the possibility of state charges relating to animal cruelty, and he could face even more jail time if found guilty.

As part of his plea, Vick agreed to give the government any information that could be used to prosecute others.

“I totally ask for forgiveness and understanding as I move forward to better Michael Vick the person, not the football player,” he said.

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Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive of the Humane Society of the United States, said he “felt real sympathy” for Vick. “I saw a man whose life has been turned upside down. No one can feel good about seeing someone take this kind of fall. It’s tragic.”

sam.farmer@latimes.com

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In his words

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Excerpts from Michael Vick’s statement after his guilty plea in U.S. District Court to a dogfighting conspiracy charge:

“For most of my life, I’ve been a football player, not a public speaker, so, you know, I really don’t know, you know, how to say what I really want to say. . . . “

“I take full responsibility for my actions. Not for one second will I sit right here -- not for one second will I sit right here and point the finger and try to blame anybody else for my actions or what I’ve done. . . . “

“I offer my deepest apologies to everybody out in there in the world who was affected by this whole situation. And if I’m more disappointed with myself than anything, it’s because of all the young people, young kids that I’ve let down, who look at Michael Vick as a role model.”

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Source: Associated Press

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ON THE WEB

Listen to Michael Vick’s complete statement and

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apology at latimes.com/nfl.


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