What's Next for Michael Vick?

Michael Vick's attorney Billy Martin announced that the Atlanta Falcons quarterback will plead guilty to federal dogfighting conspiracy charges. For more on the implications of these charges, Farai Chideya speaks with Sports Illustrated reporter George Dohrmann.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

From NPR News, this is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick has been tried again and again in the court of public opinion despite the fact that he pleaded not guilty to federal dogfighting conspiracy charges. Well, now he's changing his tune. According to Attorney Billy Martin, Vick will plead guilty in an official hearing next week. The exact plea deal hasn't been released, but this may be the beginning of the end for Michael Vick. He faces up to a year and a half in prison and possible expulsion from the National Football League.

For more, we've got Sports Illustrated investigative reporter George Dohrmann. He's been following the case.

Thanks, George, for coming on.

Mr. GEORGE DOHRMANN (Reporter, Sports Illustrated): Thanks for having me.

CHIDEYA: So less than a month ago, Michael Vick was saying he had nothing to do with the brutal dogfights that occurred on his Virginia property. What changed since then?

Mr. DOHRMANN: Well, you know, three of his co-defendants cut deals with the government and agreed to testify against Vick. And then the government threatened him with racketeering charge, which carries, you know, five to 10-year penalty. And I think the deck was stacked against him at that point and he decided to take a lighter sentence than have to face fighting those charges.

CHIDEYA: So lighter sentence in terms of criminal activity. But for someone like this who as - is at the height of his career, what does this mean?

Mr. DOHRMANN: Well, I think, you know, it's certainly up for debate, but I -there's the possibility that this ends Michael Vick's career, I mean, depending on how long he's away from the game. You know, if he's sentenced to 18 months, he's going to miss the next - this season and the following season. He's going to then have to, you know, apply for reinstatement to the league who'll probably suspend him indefinitely. It could be another season before they let him apply. And then the team has to be willing to take a chance on Michael Vick given what's sure to be some public backlash over his role in this dogfighting operation. So, you know, taking this plea is essentially, you know, Michael Vick putting his career at risk.

CHIDEYA: Now, this isn't actually the first time we've seen dogfighting charges in the NFL. So how were the previous charges handled and what was the outcome for the players?

Mr. DOHRMANN: Well, the players that had previously been charged, you know, and Nate Newton was out of the league at that time. You know, Tyrone Wheatley mentioned dogfighting. He was never actually charged. We've had NBA players who've, you know, faced really light suspensions. You know, the difference is those guys were caught with a fighting dog or with one instance of attending a fight. Whereas, this case there's anything - there's nothing like it because simply it was such a huge operation and went on for, you know, six years.

CHIDEYA: There are allegations that the dog ring and perhaps Vick actually executed low-performing dogs. What's going on with that level of the investigation?

Mr. DOHRMANN: Well, you know, his two - the initial indictment, which came out a while ago said that Vick, you know, executed some dogs as recently as April. And then in the statement of fact his - two of his co-defendants signed about a week ago, they acknowledged that Vick participated in the execution of dogs in April. So I think that was really, you know, a turning point because it was an accusation initially, and then when his two co-defendants came forward, guys who's he has been close to his whole life, came forward and said, yes, Michael Vick participated. And I think that was a tide turner in terms of public opinion even in some people who'd astonishedly supported Vick. Upon hearing his friends say that, we know - had no choice but in some ways to turn.

CHIDEYA: All right. Well, George, we're going to certainly keep looking at this case, and I know you will. Thanks so much.

Mr. DOHRMANN: Thanks for having me.

CHIDEYA: George Dohrmann is a reporter for Sports Illustrated. He spoke with us from Sports Byline studios in San Francisco.

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