PETA plans protest following Vick indictment

Jason Cole
Yahoo! Sports

The NFL may soon get its first face-to-face backlash following the federal indictment of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick on multiple dogfighting charges.

The animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has scheduled a protest in front of the league offices in New York on Friday morning.

"This is to show our frustration over the NFL's failure to take a strong stance against Michael Vick," PETA spokesman Dan Shannon said.

The call for protest comes as the NFL has yet to punish Vick, who was charged by federal authorities on Tuesday with competitive dogfighting, procuring and training pit bulls for fighting, and conducting the enterprise across state lines.

"Aside from Michael Vick and the celebrity status, the details of this case are some of the most shocking we've ever seen," Shannon said. "The cruelty and the size of this dog-fighting organization are staggering."

Falcons owner Arthur Blank addressed the public outcry in a statement Thursday.

"This is an emotionally charged and complicated matter," he said. "There are a wide range of interests and legal issues that need to be carefully considered as we move ahead, including our need to respect the due process that Michael is entitled to. Also, this situation affects everyone – our club, our players and associates, our sponsors, our fans and the Atlanta community among them – so we must consider all of our customers in making any decisions.

"Given the differing perspectives and strong feelings around this issue, we probably won't make everyone happy, but we are committed to doing the right thing. As the owner of this club that's, ultimately, my responsibility."

The league has received numerous calls and emails requesting that Vick be barred from playing for the foreseeable future, according to two league sources. Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, said that more than 100,000 emails had been sent through his organization's web site alone to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

Members of both organizations have discussed boycotting not only the Falcons and the NFL, but also companies that do business with Vick, the league and the team. Nike, which uses Vick as a pitchman, and Home Depot, where Blank was once a co-chairman, were among the targets of possible boycotts.

Pacelle said the Humane Society had yet to decide how it would protest, but he was quite clear about the goal for the organization, which has approximately 10 million members.

"If the NFL punts its responsibility and allows Vick to play, there will be significant public pressure brought to bear," Pacelle said. "And this is not some top-down decry. It's something the people in the organization will demand we do. The public is clamoring for action.

"We're still in the wake of dealing with the media and public reaction to the news of the indictment on Tuesday. Now, we started to pivot to start applying pressure if the NFL and the Falcons dig in and think it's OK for him to be on the field."

Despite indications that Goodell is not going to suspend Vick, the clear direction is toward Vick not playing or being part of training camp, a league source said. The Falcons are scheduled to open training camp at the team's headquarters in Flowery Branch, Ga., next Thursday, the same day that Vick is to be arraigned in Richmond, Va.

"I think the newspapers and other media are jumping the gun when they say Vick is going to be able to play this season," another league source said. "That's not the way I see it playing out right now. It may not be the suspension with (Goodell) coming down … to say he's banished, but I don't think he's playing. It's probably going to be something a lot more polite."

The NFL and Falcons held a series of conference calls Wednesday and Thursday to discuss the matter, according to several league sources. The options are difficult, but include the following:

  • Suspension

The problem Goodell faces in suspending Vick the way he suspended Pacman Jones, Tank Johnson or Chris Henry under the personal conduct policy is that Vick has never been arrested or convicted of a crime.

While attorneys for both the league and the NFL Players Association said Goodell could suspend Vick, such a move could expose the league and the policy to legal challenge, particularly if Vick is eventually found not guilty. That is something Goodell would like to avoid.

  • The Falcons take action

An idea floated in the media, the league and NFLPA is to have Blank give Vick a paid leave of absence to take care of the federal trial. The problem for Blank is that he would be paying Vick's $6 million base salary for nothing. Furthermore, Blank would face fallout from fans who purchased tickets under the assumption Vick would be part of the team.

Then there is the notion that Vick might feel betrayed if he feels the team hasn't stood behind him.

  • Vick could take the high road

One thought thrown out by a member of the NFLPA is that Vick should ask to take the season off. Of course, this is unlikely because it would mean that Vick simply walks away from the team and his $6 million salary.

"If I was advising (Vick), I would tell him to take the year off," the source said. "I think if he does that, he takes pressure off (Goodell) to suspend him, he eventually gets the attention to die down and he probably will get some leniency from (Blank) and the league when this is all resolved."

Such a move might go a long way toward repairing Vick's image. With protests starting to ferment, the league, the Falcons and Vick would be wise to move quickly.

  • Vick could be cut

This is the least likely scenario, at least for the time being. However, Vick, who received a $37 million signing bonus as part of a 10-year, $130 million contract in 2004, could be let go without a devastating impact to Atlanta's salary cap.

Vick is scheduled to count for $13.57 million against the cap this season, including $7.57 million in money already paid to him, according to NFLPA figures. The Falcons would actually save all of Vick's $6 million salary if they released him. Next year, Vick is scheduled to count for $15.1 million, but would count only $14.7 million if released because of money already paid to him.

In other words, the Falcons could save $400,000 in 2008 by cutting Vick. Then again, they'd still have to replace him.

  • Wait out the situation

While the outcry regarding Vick has been strong, the league and the team could hope that the attention dies down enough that Vick could practice and eventually play. Of course, a trial during the season would be a huge distraction for Vick, the team and the league.

"As long as he's around the team, it's going to be a story every day about what is going on," a source said. "It's going to make it incredibly difficult for him and the team to function."

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