Former Atlanta Falcons' quarterback Michael Vick said that he will take full responsibility for his actions after entering a guilty plea to a federal judge this morning acknowledging his involvement in organized dogfighting.
"I was ashamed and totally disappointed in myself, to say the least," Vick said in his first public comments about his role in the dogfighting scandal since federal prosecutors indicted him in July. "I want to apologize to all of the young kids out there for my immature acts. What I did was very immature, which means I need to grow up."
Vick, 27, pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to travel across state lines for the purpose of dogfighting. The charge carries a punishment of up to five years in prison, $250,000 in fines and three years of supervised release, according to the plea agreement.
Under Vick's deal, "the government agrees to recommend sentencing at the low end of the applicable guideline range, provided the defendant fulfills his obligations under this plea agreement." That range, according to sources, could be from one to three years behind bars, a decision that will be made by U.S. District Court Judge Henry Hudson at a sentencing hearing on Dec. 10.
"We hope that Judge Hudson will see the real Mike Vick," Vick's defense attorney Billy Martin said outside the courthouse as Vick met with probation officers. "What you've seen is an aberration. We think Judge Hudson will get it right when he sentences Mike on Dec. 10."
During today's press conference Vick apologized for lying to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Atlanta Falcons' owner Arthur Blank and coach Bobby Petrino, as well as to his teammates. He also apologized repeatedly to any young people who have been following his case and may have looked up to him.
"I totally ask for forgiveness and understanding as I move forward to bettering Michael Vick the person, not the football player," Vick, wearing a a dark suit, said in a somber tone.
Vick acknowledged in his plea deal, the details of which were released Friday, that he was involved in killing pit bulls that performed poorly and bankrolling the gambling enterprise and administration of an interstate dogfighting operation based out of his Virginia property.
The football star today described dogfighting as a "terrible thing," adding that his experience has helped him find religion. "Through this situation I found Jesus and I'm going to ask himself for forgiveness and turn myself over to God."
Some Vick supporters gathered outside the courthouse this morning, waving signs about the importance of forgiveness in the Christian faith. Opponents, however, also gathered to scrutinize the football player.
The National Football League took swift action, suspending the quarterback Friday indefinitely and without pay.
In a letter responding to Vick's plea agreement, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wrote that the NFL's highest-paid player has hurt the image of the league as well as the league's fans.
"Your admitted conduct was not only illegal, but also cruel and reprehensible," Goodell wrote. "Your plea agreement and the plea agreements of your co-defendants also demonstrate your significant involvement in illegal gambling. Even if you personally did not place bets, as you contend, your actions in funding the betting and your association with illegal gambling both violate the terms of your NFL Player Contract and expose you to corrupting influences in derogation of one of the most fundamental responsibilities of an NFL player."
In the letter Goodell also wrote that he would review the status of Vick's suspension once the legal proceedings against him have concluded and that the Falcons franchise is free to "asset any claims or remedies" available to them under the Collective Bargaining Agreement with the player's union.
Under the terms of the agreement, Vick admitted that a property he had purchased on Moonlight Road in Smithfield, Va., for $34,000 in 2001 became the headquarters for Bad News Kennels, according to a summary of facts in court documents obtained by ABC News.
Purses for dogfighting matches, which took place on the property as well as in other locations, ranged from hundreds of dollars to thousands of dollars, most of which was gambling money provided by Vick, according to the documents. Vick did not place side bets on any of the fights or receive any of the proceeds from purses won by Bad News Kennels.
Vick admits in the documents that in April of this year he was involved in the killing of six to eight dogs that did not perform well during "testing" sessions at the Moonlight Road property. The dogs were "killed by various methods, including hanging and drowning."
In April, evidence of dogfighting, including more than 50 dogs, was discovered by federal agents during a raid on the Moonlight Road property. No decision has been made on the fate of the dogs.
Under the terms of his plea, Vick agreed to testify as a witness for the federal government in future trials.
Vick was originally indicted in July. Each of the three Vick co-conspirators -- Tony Taylor, Purnell Peace and Quanis Phillips -- have already entered guilty pleas.
Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank said this afternoon that he accepted Vick's apology and did not rule out the possibility that Vick may take snaps as the team's quarterback in the future. Still, while acknowledging that Vick now moves into a "redemption" phase, Blank also placed blame squarely on the player.
"Only he knows why he did what he did," Blank said. "At the end of the day, he put himself in this position. The responsibility of doing so rests on his shoulders."
Vick's lies to members of the Falcons organization, including Blank, "started this train down the wrong path," the owner said, repeatedly adding that the team had "no inkling" of their star's dogfighting involvement.
Blank also spoke about the difficulty that some players from impoverished backgrounds face when they enter the spotlight of professional football. "Often, there are burdens that they bring with them," Blank said. "While they're terribly prepared in a positive way to play football, they're not terribly well-prepared to make this transition into the National Football League."
Rich McKay, the Falcons' general manager, said the franchise will be able to put Vick's $6 million base salary for this season towards the team's salary cap. Additionally, McKay said the team will pursue aggressively any bonus money outlined in Vick's contract that could also be used as salary cap credits.
Outrage over the Vick charges have cost him lucrative sponsorship contracts with Rawlings, Nike, Reebok and Upper Deck.
Vick said that he has a lot to think about in the next year, but that he will accept whatever the consequences of his crime may be.
"I will redeem myself," Vick said. "I have to."