(Gray News) - National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell has offered public support for Michael Vick as hundreds of thousands of people have signed an online petition calling for him to be removed as an honorary Pro Bowl captain.
The 39-year-old Vick pleaded guilty in 2007 to his role in a dog-fighting ring, admitting to financing and participating in the illegal activity. He was sentenced to 23 months in federal prison and was released in 2009. The quarterback, whose mobility helped revolutionize the position with the Atlanta Falcons, returned to the NFL to play for seven more seasons.
A Change.org petition has called for Vick to be removed as honorary captain because of his criminal past. It has received more than a half-million signatures, and petition organizer Joanna Lind called the NFL's announcement unacceptable.
Goodell responded to the criticism in a news conference, saying he knows some will never forgive Vick for his role in abusing animals, but he believes he has made the right decisions since serving his sentence.
"We, over the last nine years or so, have supported Michael in his recognition of the mistake that he made. He's paid a heavy price for that. He has been accountable for it. He has 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. I know that there are people out there that will never forgive him. He knows that, but I think that this is a young man that has really taken his life in a positive direction, and we support that," Goodell said.
Vick will be joined by Pro Football Hall of Famers Terrell Davis, Darrell Green and Bruce Smith as captains.