(Steve Helber-Pool/Getty Images)
Michael Vick outside a federal court where he pled guilty to a dogfighting charge in August 2007. He was released from prison today.
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) Suspended NFL star Michael Vick left a Kansas prison before dawn Wednesday to begin home confinement in Virginia, one of his attorneys said, the latest step on a journey that Vick hopes will lead to his reinstatement.
Vick, who turns 29 in June, slipped past waiting cameras and reporters to leave a federal penitentiary in Leavenworth after serving 19 months for financing a dogfighting ring. He was headed to Virginia by car to begin two months of home confinement at his five-bedroom house in Hampton before a scheduled released from federal custody on July 20.
"It's a happy day for him to be starting this part of the process," Larry Woodward, Vick's Virginia-based attorney, said. "He looks forward to meeting the challenges he has to meet."
Ultimately, Vick's goal is to rehabilitate his image and return to the NFL, but Woodward said his first priority "is spending time with his children and his loved ones."
Vick, once the NFL's highest-paid player, will be allowed to leave the house to work a $10-an-hour job as a laborer for a construction company and for other limited purposes approved by his probation officer. He will be handed a new set of rules when he begins serving three years of probation after he is released from federal custody.
The transfer from the federal penitentiary will allow Vick to begin rebuilding his life, repairing his image and working toward his goal of reinstatement to the NFL.
Goodell has said he will review Vick's status after his criminal case is concluded. He has said Vick will have to persuade him and the public that he is genuinely sorry for his crime, that he has been changed by his experience and that he is committed to leading a different life.
Vick has said he wants to work with the Humane Society of the United States on a program aimed at eradicating dogfighting among urban teens, society president Wayne Pacelle said Tuesday. Pacelle said he recently met with Vick at the federal prison in Leavenworth. Vick requested the meeting, one his attorneys, said.
Retired defensive tackle Warren Sapp, who played 13 seasons for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Oakland Raiders, is among those who feel Vick should be given an opportunity to resume his football career.
"We've always been a country of second chances. That's the essence of us, have some contrition for what you did, go pay your price and then come back and become a better person or a little different person, whatever it is," Sapp said last week. "We've never been one strike and you're gone. It's never been our mentality."
Even if he is reinstated, Vick's future in the league is uncertain. He and the Falcons have parted ways, agreeing to a contract settlement that will allow Vick to sign with another team — if there is one willing to endure the wrath of some fans in exchange for the services of a player who was perhaps the NFL's most electrifying performer.
A public backlash isn't the only risk. By all accounts, Vick has tried to stay in good physical shape, but there's no telling how much his skills have eroded after two missed seasons.
Vick said in bankruptcy court last month that he believes he can play another 10-12 years. The NFL career average is only 3.2 years and Vick already has played seven.
One certainty is that he will not command the kind of money he once earned. Vick supplemented his 10-year, $130 million Falcons contract with several lucrative endorsements, all lost because of the dogfighting. The minimum salary for a player with Vick's years of experience is $620,000.
Vick filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy plan that would have allowed him to keep the first $750,000 of his annual pay, with a percentage of any amount over that going to his creditors. A judge has rejected that plan, in part because of uncertainty about Vick's NFL future, and ordered him to submit a new one.
His bankruptcy lawyers have complained about the difficulty of handling Vick's highly complex bankruptcy case while their client was in prison 1,200 miles away. Having Vick back in the area should help them wrap up the Chapter 11 reorganization case.
"They won't even take his bankruptcy plan," said Sapp, now a television football analyst. "How much more have you got to do? I understand people love their dogs, and it was a horrible thing. ... But has he paid his debt? I would think so."
Vick's startling fall began in April 2007 when authorities conducting a drug investigation of his cousin raided the former Virginia Tech star's Surry County property and seized dozens of dogs, some injured, and equipment commonly used in dogfighting.
A federal indictment issued about three months later charged Vick and three of his "Bad Newz Kennels" associates with an interstate dogfighting conspiracy. Vick initially denied any involvement, and all four men pleaded innocent. All four eventually admitted their crimes and were sentenced to prison. Vick's sentence was the longest.
The gruesome details outlined in the indictment — dogs were hanged, drowned and electrocuted — fueled public outrage but also brought unprecedented attention to the problem of dogfighting, prompting several states to tighten their laws.
However, some supporters also remained loyal to Vick, contending that while he made mistakes he was being singled out for harsh treatment because of his celebrity status.
Vick also pleaded guilty to a state dogfighting charge and was given a three-year suspended sentence.
Sapp knows people remain upset with Vick, but reiterated he thinks the former Falcons star has been punished enough.
"To err is human. Let's just take the venom out of it. That's the thing I say. ... This is a human we're talking about. This man went from on top of the world to you can't go any lower," Sapp said.