If Michael Vick ever wants to play pro football again, experts say he only has one option: apologize.
When he's done apologizing, agents, lawyers and public relations experts told ABC News, he should apologize some more.
The Atlanta Falcons quarterback's decision to plea guilty Monday to federal dogfighting charges was an important first step, they say, toward acknowledging what he did was wrong and — if he's lucky — salvaging his career. He is expected to formally enter his plea agreement Monday.
Another potential roadblock for Vick emerged Tuesday when prosecutors in Virginia said they will consider pursuing state charges against Vick.
In the world of professional sports where allegations of illegal drug use, domestic violence and even murder often go ignored, allegations that Vick ran a kennel from his Virginia home at which dogs were forced to fight to their deaths and poor-performing animals were strangled or drowned have infuriated the public.
Many fans have been left to wonder why he would gamble away a 10-year, $130 million contract to engage in an obviously illegal activity.
"He needs to apologize every time he has cameras and mics in front of him," said Steven Jefferson, a professor of sports management at the University of Massachusetts.
"He needs to say, 'I made a big mistake. I thought it was OK and obviously I didn't know what I was talking about.' Anytime he can add himself to campaigns about preventing cruelty to animals he needs to," Jefferson said.
Organized dogfighting is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, although federal sentencing guidelines most likely would call for less. Experts believe he will probably be sentenced to 12 months to 18 months.
The NFL has yet to announce what punitive action it will take against the 27-year-old Virginia native, but in a recent statement it condemned the conduct outlined in the charges, calling it "inconsistent with what Michael Vick previously told both our office and the Falcons."
The length of Vick's prison term and the backing of his corporate sponsors, who have pulled Vick-endorsed products off the shelves at least for now, will play key roles in whether he'll have a second chance at reviving his career.
"The plea deal is largely an out," said Michael McCann, a sports law professor at Mississippi College of Law. "It's a way of ending the criminal litigation, although he can still be charged with state crimes. It's a way of getting on with his life."
"The sooner he reports to prison, the sooner he gets on with his life. If there was long litigation, he presumably wouldn't be playing in that time. If he went to trial and was given a long sentence, there would be issues about his getting older and his ability to play once out," McCann told ABC News.
McCann also said that a conviction could trigger a morals clause in his contracts with the Falcons and his corporate sponsors.
"If someone does something that causes disgrace to the organization, the organization can terminate the contracts. Often in the case of athletes, the clause is triggered once you're indicted. A criminal conviction would trigger any clause. I suspect that any company he has a deal with will terminate the contract," he said.
"The commissioner has not decided on a specific timetable on Michael Vick's status," league spokesman Greg Aiello told The Associated Press Tuesday.
Vick has been barred from training camp by the NFL and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has asked the Falcons not to take any action until the league rules.
Goodell can suspend Vick under the NFL's personal conduct policy. While the league hasn't said whether a potential suspension would be concurrent with Vick's prison sentence, it probably would take effect once he is released from custody, the AP reported.
Vick joined Atlanta in 2001 after playing in college for Virginia Tech. In 2006 he became the first pro quarterback to rush 1,000 yards in a season. While the Falcons have at times foundered under his leadership, Vick has become a fan favorite with the second-highest selling jersey in the NFL.
Some of Vick's supporters have tried to justify his actions, claiming that dogfighting is culturally acceptable among blacks in the South. The experts consulted by ABC News urged against trying to explain the circumstantial factors that contributed to the crime and to instead simply be contrite.
"This is not a spinnable story," said Alan Caruba, a public relations professional. "This is an unpleasant and unforgivable crime. Any PR counselor will tell you not to spin the truth."
Mississippi's McCann agreed that it was best to be contrite rather than try to offer justifications.
"Strategically it's best to be apologetic. Most people will not find the circumstantial reasons compelling. It's a hard argument to make to engender empathy and has the risk of backfiring."
Forgive or Forget?
Why some players are forgiven and others never given a second chance has a lot to do with likeability and personality, experts said.
"Who gets forgiven really depends on personality," Jefferson said. "Look at Emmett Smith and Michael Irvin. Smith was involved with a lot of the same inappropriate stuff Irvin was doing, but we don't talk about Smith the way we talk about Irvin. Smith was smart enough to know, 'I'm out in public and I've got to be cool.'"
Americans, Caruba said, are willing to forgive their heroes if they're sufficiently contrite.
"Americans are famous for their forgiveness. He made a great choice by pleading guilty. If he's smart, he'll disappear and stay out of sight for a while. I wouldn't be surprised if he's welcomed back with open arms."