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.