Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick deserves his day in court. But if he is found guilty of being involved in illegal dogfighting, he should not play in the NFL again.
To their credit, team and league officials have acted quickly to ensure that Vick does not play while his case is pending. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell barred the quarterback from attending the Falcons' training camp while the league looks into the accusations contained in the federal indictment against him.
The Falcons hope to suspend Vick, perhaps for the season, and owner Arthur Blank reportedly is thinking about cutting him.
While Vick has yet to be proven guilty, the indictment sent down by a federal grand jury Tuesday is stomach-churning. Vick and his co-defendants are alleged to have started a large-scale dogfighting operation in Virginia in early 2001.
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The ring involved dogs in staged fights to the death with thousands of dollars riding on the results and multiple side bets being made by spectators and dog owners. While the fights were bad enough, the methods of disposing of the losing dogs were even more grisly.
The losing dogs were drowned, hanged or shot to death. Some were killed by slamming them into the ground. Others were hosed down and then electrocuted.
If convicted, Vick and the others could face up to six years in prison and $350,000 in fines. But for Vick, the abrupt end to a highly successful pro football career would be more devastating than whatever penalty a judge could dish out.
Vick is the face of the Falcons, a hugely talented player with one of the biggest contracts in NFL history. He also ranks as one of the highest-paid endorsers in the league. Even if he avoids jail time, he is likely to be a pariah, and his days with the Falcons -- or any other team -- could be over.
Barring exoneration, Vick's exit from football would be fitting. No team should hire someone guilty of such frightful cruelty to animals, no matter how talented he might be. And what team would want a player capable of electrocuting a dog?
Although the influence of professional athletes on young fans often is overstated, it is applicable in this case. A player who sponsors dogfights is no role model for children.
A number of states, including South Carolina, recently stiffened laws against staged animal fights, and federal authorities also are cracking down on the practice. While Michael Vick might be the most high-profile figure to be indicted for dogfighting, hundreds of others are involved in this illegal activity.
Animal fighting not only is cruel to animals but also degrading to anyone involved. This practice is unfit in a civilized society, and authorities are justified in tracking down and punishing those who perpetrate it, including star quarterbacks.