Race Played Role in Vick Coverage, Critics Say

Michael Vick, suspended quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons, pleaded guilty on Monday to a felony charge for running a dogfighting ring on his Virginia property. The case has pushed animal cruelty into the limelight and spurred a national conversation about race and justice.

Michael S. Schmidt, reporter for The New York Times

Dave Zirin, columnist for SLAM magazine; regular contributor to The Nation; and author, Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports

Ron Thomas, director of Morehouse College's Journalism and Sports Program

Vick Pleads Guilty in Dogfighting Case

Suspended Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick pleaded guilty on Monday to a federal dogfighting conspiracy charge.

In his written plea filed in court Friday, Vick admitted he helped to kill six to eight pit bull dogs and supplied money for gambling on the fights. He said he did not personally place any bets or share in any winnings.

At Monday's hearing, U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson asked Vick, "Are you entering the plea of guilty to a conspiracy charge because you are in fact guilty?"

Vick replied, "Yes, sir."

The plea agreement calls for a sentencing range of 12 to 18 months, but U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson is known for handing down tough sentences.

"You're taking your chances here. You'll have to live with whatever decision I make," Hudson said. He could impose the maximum sentence of up to five years in prison.

Hudson will sentence Vick on Dec. 10.

At a news conference after the hearing, Vick apologized to the NFL commissioner, his teammates, fans, and the young people who look to him as a role model.

He said he took complete responsibility for his actions and would be thinking about how he could make himself a better person.

"I totally ask for forgiveness and understanding," he said. "I take full responsibility for my actions. I made a mistake in using bad judgment and making bad decisions. Dogfighting is a terrible thing."

Vick was cheered by his supporters when he arrived at the federal courthouse in Richmond, Va., for the court proceedings Monday morning.

On Friday, the NFL suspended him indefinitely and without pay. Merely associating with gamblers can trigger a lifetime ban under the league's personal conduct policy.

The case began in late April when authorities conducting a drug investigation of Vick's cousin raided the former Virginia Tech star's rural Surry County property and seized dozens of dogs, some injured, and equipment commonly used in dogfighting.

A federal indictment issued in July charged Vick, Purnell Peace of Virginia Beach, Va.; Quanis Phillips of Atlanta and Tony Taylor of Hampton, Va., with an interstate dogfighting conspiracy. Vick initially denied any involvement, and all four men pleaded innocent. Taylor was the first to change his plea to guilty, and Phillips and Peace soon followed.

The details outlined in the indictment and other court papers fueled a public backlash against Vick and cost him several lucrative endorsement deals, even before he agreed to plead guilty.

In announcing the suspension, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell opened the way for the Falcons to attempt to recover $22 million of Vick's signing bonus from the 10-year, $130 million contract he signed in 2004.

Vick's plea comes hours before the Falcons play an exhibition game at home against the Cincinnati Bengals. This will be the first chance for the team to see what effect Vick's case has on attendance at the Georgia Dome. Vick wears the biggest-selling jersey in team history and is given much credit for the team's 51 consecutive sellouts.

Vick's defense attorney, Billy Martin, has said Vick will "explain his actions" publicly, but did not say when. The "Tom Joyner Morning Show," a syndicated program based in Dallas, said it will have a live interview with Vick on Tuesday, and he will take questions from callers.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

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