PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Disgraced NFL star Michael Vick made his first public appearance for the Philadelphia Eagles on Friday and expressed remorse for bankrolling a dogfighting ring, an offense that sent him to prison.
“I made some mistakes and did some terrible things,” Vick, a former All-Pro quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons, told a news conference to announce his signing with the Eagles.
The two-year deal divided fans in Philadelphia, with some threatening to abandon the Eagles and others saying they could hardly wait to see him in the team’s uniform.
Vick, released in May from federal prison in Leavenworth, Kansas, will be eligible to play the final two preseason games with the Eagles and, if National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell approves, could join the team by the sixth week of the regular season in October.
“Everybody deserves a second chance,” Vick said. “But I think you only get one shot at a second chance and I’m conscious of that.”
Vick, 29, was convicted in 2006 of organizing a dogfighting ring and served 18 months of a 23-month sentence. His suspension from the NFL was conditionally lifted on July 27.
Media reports said the first year of Vick’s contract with the Eagles was worth $1.6 million, with the team having an option for the second year at $5.2 million.
Eagles coach Andy Reid said he was satisfied that Vick truly regretted the dogfighting and was “not only proactive but sincere” in his desire to make amends.
“It was a smart move by the Eagles — a good business move,” said Tom McCloskey, a customer at the 15th Round sports bar in Philadelphia. “Eagles fans will start to love Vick if he starts to do well.”
Bill Abel, the owner of the bar, disagreed.
“They should hang him up and beat him and slay him,” he said, echoing the courtroom descriptions of the cruelty at the Bad Newz Kennels run by Vick. “I can’t support the Eagles anymore. I won’t show the games anymore.”
Vick said he rejected “excuses” that dogfighting was part of the culture of some inner-city communities and he pledged to work with the Humane Society of the United States to crack down on the practice.
“I will continue to help young individuals from going down the path I went down,” he said. “If I can help more than I hurt, then I am going to do that.”
The animal rights group PETA said it was “disappointed” by the decision to bring Vick back into the game but the Humane Society has said it is ready to work with him in Philadelphia.
“It’s a city we’ve been looking at very closely because it has a major dogfighting problem. So Vick’s landing there has the potential to turn around the issue,” the Humane Society’s president, Wayne Pacelle, told the Los Angeles Times.
Vick said that even before he was charged with the dogfighting offenses, he knew what he was doing was wrong but that his prison sentence gave him time to reflect on the “cruel, unethical and inhumane” nature of his activities.
“I was wrong for what I did,” he said. “To this day, I can’t understand why I was involved in so much pointless activity. To this day, I have to live with the shame and the embarrassment.”
Vick said he understood why some people will never forgive him but stressed that he will work to redeem himself.
Philadelphia Daily News columnist Paul Domowitch asked people to look at the Vick deal from a football standpoint.
“If he can whip his 29-year-old body back into some semblance of football shape, can he be a difference-making offensive weapon for this team? Can he improve their Super Bowl chances? The answers are yes and yes,” Domowitch wrote.
But Phil Sheridan, a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, said it was “going to be very difficult to watch this guy without thinking about those dead and tormented dogs.”
On his future with the Eagles, Vick said he had maintained his physical conditioning but did not expect to play for the team right away. He said he has been working with Eagles star quarterback Donovan McNabb to try to regain his form.
“I’m considering this my first year,” Vick said. “I’m trying to do whatever I can, get acclimated, just do whatever I can to help this team succeed and reach the Super Bowl.”
Additional reporting by Jessica Hall; Writing by Steve Ginsburg; Editing by John O'Callaghan