Former NFL quarterback Michael Vick will still serve as an honorary captain at this year's Pro Bowl despite a popular petition that calls for his removal over his 2007 dogfighting conviction. In a news conference on Thursday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell defended the decision to honor Vick.
"Over the last, what is it, nine years or so, we have supported Michael in his, what I think his recognition of the mistake he made," Goodell said. "He's paid a heavy price for that. He's been accountable for it. He's worked aggressively with the Humane Society and other institutions to deal with animal rights and to make sure people don't make the same mistake he made, and I admire that."
The NFL's decision to name Vick as one of the 2020 Pro Bowl Legends Captains, a role that would see him mentor players and coach from the sidelines, was quickly met with criticism. In 2007, Vick served a year and a half in federal prison for his involvement in a dogfighting ring.
As of Thursday afternoon, one Change.org petition calling for Vick's removal gained more than 560,000 signatures.
"To honor a man who had zero regard for animals is unacceptable and I would like your help to make sure he is NOT honored at the 2020 NFL Pro Bowl," the petition says.
Goodell on Thursday said that Vick has been involved in animal rights issues since he got out of prison and has worked with lawmakers to support a bill giving police officers the right to break into cars to free dogs and cats.
"I know there are people out there who will never forgive him," the commissioner said. "He knows that. But I think this is a young man who's really taken his life in a positive direction, and we support that, so I don't anticipate any change, no," Goodell said.
Vick is known as one of the most prolific rushing quarterbacks in league history. He was suspended from the NFL for two seasons as a result of the dogfighting conviction. He signed with the Philadelphia Eagle in 2009 and played for the New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers before retiring in 2017.
The Pro Bowl will take place on January 26, 2020, at Camping World Stadium in Orlando. Vick will serve alongside Denver Broncos running back Terrell Davis, Buffalo Bills defensive end Bruce Smith and Washington Redskins cornerback Darrell Green.
Editor's note: This article has been updated to correct the date of the 2020 Pro Bowl.