On this day in 2007, Michael Vick, a star quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons, formally pleads guilty before a Richmond, Virginia, judge to a federal felony charge related to running a dogfighting ring. That December, the 27-year-old Vick, once the highest-paid player in the NFL, was sentenced to 23 months in federal prison.
In April 2007, law-enforcement officials raided a 15-acre property owned by Vick in rural Surry County, Virginia, and discovered dozens of pit bulls, some of them neglected, along with evidence of illegal dogfighting activities. That July, Vick and three other men, Purnell Peace, Quanis Phillips and Tony Taylor, were charged with engaging in competitive dogfighting, obtaining and training pit bulls for fighting, and carrying out the enterprise across state lines. All four men pled not guilty to the charges. However, Vick’s three co-defendants later changed their pleas to guilty and agreed to testify that the quarterback had participated in the execution of a number of dogs and had bankrolled the gambling and operating funds for the venture, known as Bad Newz Kennels, which had reportedly been in existence for about five years. Animal-rights organizations as well as the general public expressed outrage against Vick and the barbaric details of the case—dogs that underperformed in fights were put to death by such means as drowning, electrocution and hanging.
On August 27, Vick, the Falcons’ starting quarterback since 2002, pled guilty to one count of “conspiracy to travel in interstate commerce in aid of unlawful activities and to sponsor a dog in an animal fighting venture.” Vick, who in 2004 signed a record 10-year, $130 million contract with the Falcons, was suspended indefinitely without pay by the NFL and lost his lucrative endorsement deals.
In December 2007, a judge sentenced Vick to 23 months in federal prison. Because the judge believed the football player had refused to accept responsibility for his actions (Vick failed a drug test after his August 2007 guilty plea and also flunked a lie-detector test about his role in the executions of underperforming dogs), the sentence was stiffer than the 12 months to 18 months suggested by federal guidelines. In July 2008, while in prison, Vick filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. That November, he pled guilty in Virginia to state dogfighting charges and received a three-year suspended sentence.
In May 2009, Vick was released from prison in Leavenworth, Kansas. That July, he was conditionally reinstated by the NFL and the following month signed a two-year deal with the Philadelphia Eagles. While his public image remained tarnished, Vick went on to make a strong comeback on the football field.