(AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)
BARRY WILNER, AP Football Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — Michael Vick is back in the NFL. Now all he needs is a team to play for. Vick, free after serving 18 months in prison for running a dogfighting ring, was reinstated with conditions by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on Monday. He could participate in regular-season games as early as October.
Vick can immediately take part in preseason practices, workouts and meetings and can play in the final two preseason games — if he can find a team that will sign him. A number of teams have already said they would not.
Once the season begins, Vick may participate in all team activities except games, and Goodell said he would consider Vick for full reinstatement by Week 6 (Oct. 18-19) at the latest.
Goodell suspended Vick indefinitely in August 2007 after the former Atlanta Falcons quarterback admitted bankrolling a dogfighting operation on his property in Virginia. At the time, Goodell said Vick must show remorse before he would consider reinstating him.
“I accept that you are sincere when you say that you want to, and will, turn your life around, and that you intend to be a positive role model for others,” Goodell said in his letter to Vick. “I am prepared to offer you that opportunity. Whether you succeed is entirely in your hands.”
“Needless to say, your margin for error is extremely limited,” the letter said. “I urge you to take full advantage of the resources available to support you and to dedicate yourself to rebuilding your life and your career. If you do this, the NFL will support you.”
Goodell said he spoke to numerous current and former players and coaches as he weighed his decision and that the responses were “very mixed.”
“I do recognize that some will never forgive him for what he did,” Goodell said. “I hope that the public will have a chance to understand his position as I have.”
Vick, once the highest-paid player in the league, said he was grateful for a second chance.
“I would like to express my sincere gratitude and appreciation to commissioner Goodell for allowing me to be readmitted to the National Football League,” Vick said in a statement released by his agent, Joel Segal. “I fully understand that playing football in the NFL is a privilege, not a right, and I am truly thankful for the opportunity I have been given.
“As you can imagine, the last two years have given me time to revaluate my life, mature as an individual and fully understand the terrible mistakes I have made in the past and what type of life I must lead moving forward,” he said.
The announcement came after a busy first week of freedom for Vick, who met with union leaders and Goodell on consecutive days last week. His 23-month federal sentence ended when an electronic monitor was removed from his ankle on July 20 at his home in Hampton, Va.
He met with DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association, last Tuesday and, on Wednesday, he sat down with Goodell at a security firm in Allendale, N.J.
Goodell suggested that preventing Vick from playing at the start of the regular season wasn’t punishment but a chance for the quarterback to gradually make a transition back into the league.
“I have thought about every alternative, but I think this gives him the best chance for success,” Goodell said. “We are not looking for failure here. We are looking to see a young man succeed.”
But Vick’s issues are far from over and he needs a team to call his own. So far, the owners of the New York Giants, Jets and Dallas Cowboys have said they had no interest in the 29-year-old quarterback. Neither do the Falcons, who officially released Vick in June.
Vick filed for bankruptcy protection last July, listing assets of about $16 million and debts of more than $20 million, and has a hearing about his plan to repay his creditors on Friday in Newport News, Va. That plan is built around his ability to make NFL-type money again.
He’s unlikely to command anything close to the 10-year, $130 million contract he once had with the Falcons, or to get endorsement deals after the grisly details of the dogfighting ring were publicized.
Vick pleaded guilty after his three co-defendants had already done so. They told of how Vick participated in the killing of dogs that didn’t perform well in test fights by shooting, hanging, drowning or slamming them to the ground.
Vick’s appearances at federal court in Richmond, Va., prompted large groups of protesters to gather outside. Many were with PETA and held signs depicting photographs of pit bulls ravaged in dogfights.
Still, there were supporters who wore his No. 7 jersey.
Vick has already taken steps to rebuild his image.
He met with the president of the Humane Society of the United States while serving his federal sentence at Leavenworth, Kan. He plans to work with HSUS in a program designed to steer inner city youth away from dogfighting. He was not permitted to work with the program while in custody.
Ed Sayres, president of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said the organization hopes Vick “rises to the occasion and proves worthy of the rare second chance Commissioner Goodell has granted him.”
“Opportunities for redemption are rare — but that is exactly the opportunity that awaits Mr. Vick,” he said.
AP Sports Writers Hank Kurz in Richmond, Va., and Rachel Cohen in New York contributed to this story.
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