Will Vick get second chance?

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RICHMOND, Va. – Michael Vick will turn 29 years old on June 26, 2009. With good behavior, he may see his birthday as a free man with a chance for redemption in the NFL.

The 23-month sentence Vick, the deposed Atlanta Falcons quarterback, received Monday for bankrolling and participating in dog fighting provided the final touch to a watershed episode for groups such as the Humane Society and PETA.

“I don’t know if there will every be another case like this with all the notoriety and attention Michael Vick brought to it,” Humane Society investigator and spokesman John Goodwin said.

In the background of this case is whether Vick can ever salvage his NFL career. Certainly, the $100 million contract he signed once upon a time is long gone. But if Vick can turn his life around while he’s in prison, will there be another opportunity?

Vick, who pleaded guilty to federal charges of conspiracy in relation to dog fighting and eventually admitted killing dogs with his own hands when they failed to perform well, can reduce his sentence by up to 15 percent. In the best-case scenario, he could be out by the summer of 2009.

Goodwin hopes Vick can earn another chance.

“The Humane Society is a group that believes in redemption,” Goodwin said. “I believe in redemption, as long as it’s sincere … If Michael Vick speaks out against dog fighting the way he said he would and changes his life around, I think he deserves another chance to get his career going.

“I’ve never done anything as bad as Michael Vick, but I also don’t walk on water. I’ve done plenty of bad things in my life that I regret. But I believe people can change and I believe in forgiveness.”

Two years from now, the question will be whether the NFL and some team will also forgive. The NFL declined to comment after Vick’s sentence, other than to reiterate that he is under indefinite suspension. Atlanta owner Arthur Blank reiterated his hope that Vick will turn his life around.

Two NFL general managers talked off the record and uncomfortably about the possibility of Vick returning to the league.

“It’s going to be a hard sell for that team and that owner,” one of the GMs said, echoing comments he made when Vick pleaded guilty. “But somebody will be desperate enough to give him a chance … I will say, one thing he does have going for him is he’ll only be 29. That’s still pretty young in this game.

“And he should be in shape. What else does he have to do while he’s in prison?”

Some may take offense to such sarcasm, but this is the reality Vick has built for himself around the NFL. Being the fastest, most electric athlete to ever play quarterback doesn’t guarantee forgiveness.

Furthermore, when you’re a convict unwilling to avoid smoking pot two weeks after you pleaded guilty – an indiscretion that added time to his sentence from the judge – the road to redemption is paved with sinkholes, not potholes.

In other words, Vick is off to a problematic start. But it’s still the kind of story he could turn around.

Or as one former Falcons teammate said Monday before Atlanta played host to the New Orleans Saints: “A lot of guys have just tried to forget about Michael. Not that we don’t care, but you have to play. You have to concentrate. This has been a tough year for everybody. But what I think everybody keeps hoping is that Michael can turn this around, change his life, do the right thing.”

To Goodwin, doing the right thing would be a long-running mea culpa.

“Michael Vick said he wants to show the world a different Michael Vick, that he has changed. That’s great and we hope he does that. We hope he says over and over again that he rejects animal cruelty and dog fighting,” Goodwin said.

“There are going to be a lot of people who are going to want to hear him tell his story from prison. It’s a tragic story about everything he has thrown away with this cruel behavior. But if he’s willing to tell the story and teach people this is wrong, I think we’ll all be watching. I think the NFL will be watching and will take note of that.”

Right now, as Goodwin said, there’s no reason to lay out a plan for Vick about what it will take to get back in society’s good graces.

“I think the NFL is going to sit back and see what he does. Will he tell his story to help others? We’re going to be watching to see what we think,” Goodwin said. “I feel like the sentence he received was strong and fair,” Goodwin said. “It’s not the maximum he could have gotten, but we weren’t expecting that. This is an obscene case and there are other circumstance, but he’s still a first-time offender.”

Basically, the plan is pretty obvious.