NFL star Michael Vick formally pleaded guilty to one felony count of conspiracy Monday (August 27). He also accepted a deal with the federal government in hopes of a lenient sentence based on the charges stemming from his arrest for heading an illegal dogfighting operation.
Vick, 27, admitted in his plea that he funded Bad Newz Kennel and the gambling associated with the operation, and that he was part of the enterprise responsible for killing dogs that underperformed or were not fit to participate in fights.
In his plea, Vick did not admit to personally killing dogs or gambling on individual fights, although in legal papers filed last week, he admitted to participating in the killing of dogs that did not fight well.
He is scheduled to be sentenced December 10.
United States District Judge Henry E. Hudson will oversee the case. Although the government can recommend a lighter sentence for Vick in exchange for his cooperation, the judge has the power to make a decision at his own discretion without advisement.
"For most of my life I been a football player, not a public speaker," Vick solemnly said in an unprepared statement during a brief press conference held following his plea. "I really don't know how to say what I really want to say. ... So I take this opportunity to speak from the heart. First I want to apologize for all the things that I've done and that I've allowed to happen. I want to personally apologize to Commissioner Goodell, [Falcons owner] Arthur Blank, Coach Bobby Petrino, my Atlanta Falcon teammates for our previous discussions we had, and I was not honest and forthright in our discussions.
"I was ashamed and totally disappointed in myself, to say the least," he continued. "And I want to apologize to all the young kids out there for my immature acts. What I did was very immature, so that means I need to grow up. I totally ask for forgiveness and understand as I move forward to a better Michael Vick the person, not the football player. I take full responsibility for my actions. Not for one second will I sit here and blame anyone else for my actions. It was totally irresponsible. I feel like we all make mistakes. I made a mistake in using bad judgment and making bad decisions. And those things just can't happen. Dogfighting is a terrible thing and I did reject it."
Vick faces up to five years in prison if convicted on multiple charges. He pleaded to one count of Conspiracy to Travel in Interstate Commerce in Aid of Unlawful Activities and to Sponsor a Dog in an Animal Fighting Venture. If Hudson accepts the plea, Vick faces a prison sentence of 12 to 18 months. As a part of his plea deal, Vick will cooperate as part of a federal government investigation regarding any recent criminal activities (see "Why Does The Michael Vick Case Hurt Hip-Hop?").
On Friday, the NFL officially suspended Vick indefinitely, while also suspending his pay. The $6 million salary he was set to make during the 2007 football season will no longer count against the Atlanta Falcons' salary cap.
In a press conference following Vick's — which was attended by baseball legend Hank Aaron and civil rights activist Jonetta Cole — Blank and Falcons general manager Rich McKay confirmed that they would immediately proceed to procure a portion of Vick's signing bonus from the 10-year, $130 million contract he signed with the team in 2004.
"We are saddened by the actions that Michael has admitted to," Blank told reporters, "and the actions that betrayed the trust of many people."
Vick's attorney, Billy Martin, told reporters that neither Vick nor he will have any further comments Monday regarding the matter.