HAMPTON, Va. (AP) - Michael Vick is out of prison and headed
home, broke and reviled for running a dogfighting ring, but hopeful for a second chance at his once-charmed life as a star NFL quarterback.
The suspended quarterback served 19 months in prison on the
dogfighting conviction that capped one of the most astonishing
falls in sports history - one that stole his wealth and popularity.
"Football is on the back-burner for now," said agent Joel
Segal, who negotiated Vick's 10-year, $130 million contract with
the Atlanta Falcons but will be asking for substantially less if
his tarnished client's suspension is lifted by NFL Commissioner
Falcons owner Arthur Blank said Vick deserves a second chance,
but it won't be with Atlanta, which has severed ties with its
Vick, who turns 29 in June, left the federal penitentiary in
Leavenworth, Kan., by car early Wednesday, undetected by hordes of reporters who had staked out the prison.
He was accompanied on the 1,200-mile ride by his fiancee, Kijafa Frink, a videographer and several members of a security team assembled by Vick's lawyers and advisers, a person familiar with the plans told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to comment on the matter. The person did not know the reason for the videographer.
Avoiding the media will be tougher in Hampton, where he will
serve two months in home confinement. His five-bedroom brick house is at the end of a cul-de-sac, where at least a half-dozen
satellite trucks and several reporters and camera crews awaited his return. Out back, between the house and a pond, maintenance workers got the swimming pool ready.
Vick was sentenced to 23 months in federal prison for financing
a dogfighting conspiracy. He won't be released from federal custody until July 20, but his departure from Leavenworth begins a new chapter.
"It's a happy day for him to be starting this part of the process," said Larry Woodward, Vick's Virginia-based attorney, said. "He looks forward to meeting the challenges he has to meet."
His ultimate goal is a return to the NFL, but Woodward said
Vick's first priority "is spending time with his children and his loved ones."
Chief among his challenges is rehabilitating his image and
convincing the public and Goodell that he is truly sorry for his
crime, and that he is prepared to live a different life - goals
that will depend more on deeds than words.
"It goes beyond, 'Has he paid his debt to society?' Because I
think that from a legal standpoint and financially and personally,
he has," Blank said at an NFL owners' meeting Wednesday.
Part of Vick's problem was the company he kept, Blank said, and
weeding out the bad influences and associating with people who have his best interests at heart will be a key to redemption and a possible return to the NFL.
"There's the expression 'you are what you eat.' To some extent,
you are who you hang with too, and that does have an effect on
lives for all of us," he said.
Vick's NFL future remains a mystery.
"Mike's already paid his dues," Falcons receiver and former
teammate Roddy White said Wednesday. "He wants to play football. I think if he gets reinstated before the season, there'll be a couple of teams that will be after him and give him a chance to play."
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said Vick doesn't
deserve that chance until he passes psychological tests proving he is capable of feeling genuine remorse.
"Our position would be the opportunity to play in the NFL is a
privilege, not a right," PETA spokesman Dan Shannon said.
First up for Vick is a $10-an-hour job as a laborer for a construction company. That job is part of his probation, and he
will find out more about the restrictions he faces in home
confinement when he meets with his probation officer later this
week. He also will be equipped with an electronic monitor.
The Humane Society of the United States said Vick met its
president recently in prison and wants to work on a program aimed at eradicating dogfighting among urban teens.
Billy Martin, another of Vicks' attorneys, said Vick chose to
work with the animal protection group because it was one of his
harshest critics before he was indicted.
"Now it's time for Mike's deeds to speak for themselves," he
Karen Pierce, a board member of a foundation Vick established in 2006 to help disadvantaged youths in his hometown of Newport News and Atlanta, said her former seventh-grade English student has told her one of his priorities after his release will be to get that program back up and running.
DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association, said the group supports Vick and his family "as he
works to rebuild his life."
Vick also has many financial problems to resolve. He filed for
Chapter 11 bankruptcy in July, but his reorganization plan was
rejected last month by a judge who ordered him to draft a new one.
The judge was concerned about the feasibility of the plan, which is based largely on his return to the NFL.
Vick will be on three years of probation. He also pleaded guilty
to a state dogfighting charge in November and received a three-year suspended sentence.