Goodell says Vick not overshadowing upcoming season

Friday, August 17, 2007

Despite his belief, the NFL commissioner has not been able to escape the topic.

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Roger Goodell wants to talk football. Michael Vick keeps getting in the way.

The NFL commissioner, making a tour of training camps, raved about Detroit Lions coach Rod Marinelli and his players after visiting them Thursday. He spoke to them mostly about their responsibilities as players.

As soon as Goodell started taking questions during a news conference, however, he was asked about Vick. And the questions kept coming.

There has been an unrelenting drumbeat of news concerning Vick, who is charged with running a dogfighting ring on his Virginia property. Goodell insists this is not eclipsing enthusiasm about the game itself.

"I don't think it's overshadowing the season," he said. "I think our fans are excited about football, but I understand the interest in the story."

Vick is facing increased pressure to strike a deal with prosecutors in his federal dogfighting conspiracy case.

"We're going to do what we always said we were going to do, which is rely on the facts," Goodell said. "If there is some type of a plea agreement, then we will obviously take the time to understand what that plea is and we'll see how it fits into our personal conduct [policy]."

Goodell barred Vick from taking part in training camp while the league investigates. The commissioner said the league is monitoring talks between Vick's lawyers and prosecutors. He wants the legal process to run its course before he rules on Vick's future in the league.

Under NFL policy, a player can be banned for life for illegal gambling or associating with gamblers, and Vick might face that penalty.

"[The gambling] is certainly an issue," Goodell said after meeting with the Cleveland Browns at their year-round training facility. "Law enforcement may be concerned about certain things about this. We may be concerned about other aspects of this. That's why we want to evaluate what the government has. We don't know all of the facts on that. Michael's team may not know all the facts at this point in time."

The quarterback was linked to betting by a statement signed by former co-defendant Tony Taylor, who pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the government, and the July 17 indictment.

Two other co-defendants -- Purnell Peace and Quanis Phillips -- are to enter plea agreements today. Prosecutors have said they will seek a superseding indictment later this month that could mean additional charges against Vick.

Vick has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to travel in interstate commerce in aid of unlawful activities and conspiring to sponsor a dog in an animal fighting venture. If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

Vick's charges have also hurt the NFL's image in an offseason also marked by suspensions of Adam "Pacman" Jones, Tank Johnson and Chris Henry for off-field conduct. Goodell contends just four players out of about 2,000 in the league are generating most of the scrutiny.

"I've said to Pacman and any player, 'You have to earn your way back into the National Football League and you have to do it through your conduct,"' Goodell said. "It's not about what you tell the commissioner, or what you tell anyone. It's your conduct and your activities. I was disappointed with some of the activities that Pacman got involved this spring, after we had met and had a lot of discussions.

"Michael knows exactly how I feel."

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