NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell would like Michael Vick to take a paid leave of absence, but the Atlanta Falcons star wants to play football this season, sources familiar with the situation said Friday.
With the opening of NFL training camps looming, league and Falcons officials are under pressure to take decisive action against the quarterback, who was indicted this week on federal charges related to dogfighting.
Goodell met Friday with animal welfare officials at league headquarters in New York, and about 50 people demonstrated peacefully outside the Park Avenue offices, urging the commissioner to suspend the player. The group, which was organized by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, chanted "Sack Vick!" and held signs featuring his No. 7 with a circle and slash through it.
In Washington, Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) called for the immediate suspension of Vick, accused of being a key player in a Virginia dogfighting operation that allegedly executed poor-performing pit bulls by methods such as hanging, drowning and electrocution.
"I am deeply disturbed by the indictment of Michael Vick for dogfighting charges," Kerry wrote in a letter to Goodell. "I urge you to treat this issue with the utmost seriousness as the case progresses. In light of the seriousness of the charges, I believe that Mr. Vick should be suspended from the League, effective immediately."
Kerry wasn't the only lawmaker to weigh in on dogfighting this week. In a speech on the Senate floor Thursday, Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) called dogfighting "barbaric" and -- although not specifically addressing the Vick case -- said: "I am confident that the hottest places in hell are reserved for the souls of sick and brutal people who hold God's creatures in such brutal and cruel contempt."
Goodell, whose first 11 months in office have been defined by his strong stance against lawbreaking players, is said to be reluctant to suspend Vick because of the effect doing so might have on the player's legal proceedings. Vick is scheduled to be arraigned Thursday in Richmond, Va., the same day the Falcons open training camp in Flowery Branch, Ga.
"By imposing discipline now, the commissioner runs the risk of tainting a criminal proceeding, because the government would use that disciplinary decision as evidence of guilt against Michael Vick," said David Cornwell, former NFL assistant general counsel.
The Atlanta attorney said there is a "huge difference" between Vick's case and that of Adam "Pacman" Jones, who Goodell suspended for the 2007 season before the courts heard his case, because the league suspended the Tennessee cornerback before he had been indicted.
A source familiar with the Vick discussions -- which involve Goodell, Falcons owner Arthur Blank and representatives of the NFL Players Assn. -- called the leave-of-absence option a "win-win-win," because it would take pressure off the league and team, while allowing Vick to focus on his legal entanglements.
But the source said that so far Vick is resisting the idea and still wants to play this season.
Two letters written June 21 by the NFL to the Humane Society, and provided to the Associated Press by the league, said league security will warn players about animal fighting and animal cruelty at all 32 training camps this summer.
"We are in total agreement that there is no place for animal cruelty and illegal animal fighting and take very seriously the allegations of dogfighting against Michael Vick," Peter Abitante, Goodell's personal assistant, wrote nearly a month before Vick's indictment.
"We certainly do not condone this activity and will not tolerate cruelty or mistreatment of animals. If Mr. Vick or anyone associated with the NFL is found to have violated state or federal law, the commissioner has stated publicly that he will impose significant discipline under our personal-conduct policy."
The Newport News (Va.) Daily Press and Associated Press contributed to this report.