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NFL launches own investigation of Vick

Union's Upshaw, Falcons' Blank, both admitted dog lovers, express concern.

July 25, 2007|Sam Farmer and Greg Johnson | Times Staff Writers

ATLANTA — Two days removed from Michael Vick's arraignment on charges related to illegal dogfighting, bad news came at the Atlanta Falcons quarterback Tuesday from the north and south.

In Washington, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the indictment "turns your stomach," and that the league is conducting its own investigation -- overseen by an attorney who once held the No. 2 position at the U.S. Department of Justice.

"If there are indisputable facts, we want to know what they are," Goodell said. "Because those indisputable facts may in themselves be in violation of our personal conduct policy."

For now, Vick has been ordered by the league not to report to training camp. The NFL has the right to suspend a player indefinitely for a personal conduct policy infraction.

Goodell was in Washington to meet with the NFL Players Assn. on retiree-benefit issues. Gene Upshaw, the union's executive director, joined him later in a news conference that ended with questions about Vick.

Referring to himself as a "dog lover," Upshaw said the NFLPA has received numerous phone calls and "every kind of e-mail you can think of -- and they're not good, not good at all."

He added: "Obviously this has struck a nerve. I think we all understand the seriousness of the charge and the seriousness of what could happen with this charge."

In Atlanta on Tuesday, the Falcons held a news conference to address the case, saying paperwork to suspend Vick for the maximum four games for conduct detrimental to the team had already been drawn up when the league took action first.

Team owner Arthur Blank, while repeatedly stressing the importance of letting the legal process run its course, called "horrific" the 18-page indictment that details the hanging, drowning, shooting and electrocution of pit bulls on Vick's property in Surry, Va.

"Dogs are a part of my family," said Blank, who was joined by Falcons President Rich McKay and Coach Bobby Petrino. "I've got six kids, and I've got dogs I consider my seventh child and eighth child."

Blank said the Falcons considered all options for Vick, including releasing him or giving him a paid leave of absence, "which we didn't think was appropriate or sufficient under the circumstances." He added that the only time he has spoken to Vick since the indictment was briefly last Wednesday. McKay said he has been in contact only with the quarterback's agent and attorney.

"It's simply the lawyer in me," McKay said. "This is an ongoing investigation ... and we're not in the business of becoming a witness in that trial, or whatever it may be."

Blank said he would encourage Vick to give up any thoughts of playing while the case is pending, even if it means sitting out the season. He said there was a "reasonable potential" Vick would miss at least a significant part of the regular season.

"This is not about playing football in 2007," Blank said. "This is about his life."

Vick could not be reached for comment.

He has hired trial attorney Billy Martin, who has been involved in several high-profile cases. Among them, he defended the New Jersey Nets' Jayson Williams in an aggravated manslaughter trial; and represented former White House intern Monica Lewinsky and the parents of murdered government intern Chandra Levy.

Overseeing the NFL's investigation is lawyer Eric Holder of Covington & Burling LLP, appointed by then-President Clinton to serve as Deputy Attorney General and becoming the first African American to hold that position. Holder briefly served under President Bush as Acting Attorney General pending the confirmation of John Ashcroft.

Goodell said the NFL is "not trying to circumvent the legal process or the criminal process" by conducting its own investigation, but that the league will do what is necessary to protect itself and its fans. He said he has not spoken to Vick or his representatives since the spring.

The indictment identifies Vick as a key player in a dogfighting operation dating to early 2001, just before his rookie season with the Falcons. It was then that Vick bought the property, the indictment reads, with the goal of using it as "the main staging area for housing and training the pit bulls in the dogfighting venture and hosting dogfights."

Vick initially denied any connection to the house, saying he never lived there nor had ever visited. He blamed friends and family members for taking advantage of his generosity, an explanation that he apparently gave Goodell when the two met in New York at the draft in April.

The Falcons have a lot invested in Vick, who in 2004 signed what was the richest contract in league history, a 10-year extension worth approximately $130 million. At the time, Blank said the deal would ensure Vick would be a Falcon for life.

Now, it's unknown if Vick will ever take another snap for Atlanta -- or any other NFL team.

"My only personal suggestion to Michael," Blank said, "is that he focus on his defense, focus on putting his life back together in that regard, and dealing with the process that he'll be going through in the next couple of months. I think it will be very difficult to do that and to be focused on football at the same time."

--

Farmer reported from Atlanta. Johnson reported from Washington.

sam.farmer@latimes.com

greg.Johnson@latimes.com

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