LEXINGTON, Va. -- NFL commissioner Roger Goodell says suspended Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick has paid a significant price for doing an "egregious thing" and will have to show genuine remorse and that the experience has changed him in order to have a chance at resuming his career in the league.
Goodell appeared Tuesday night at Washington & Lee University, engaging in a panel discussion about leadership in sports and taking questions from the audience.
Afterward, Goodell said he hasn't kept up with Vick's legal issues since suspending him from the league after his conviction in a federal dogfighting case. Vick is serving a 23-month prison term and has a team of lawyers trying to settle his finances in bankruptcy court.
A major component of the bankruptcy lawyers' efforts to find a way for Vick to satisfy his creditors is based on his ability to again earn millions in pro football.
"I don't stay in touch with them," Goodell said after the panel discussion, reiterating that he'll consider Vick's case only after all his legal issues have been resolved.
"At that point in time, I will want to meet with Michael, I will want to meet with his people, I will want to meet with other professionals to understand: Does he understand the mistakes he made, and is he genuine and have remorse for those actions, and is he prepared to handle himself differently going forward? That will ultimately be my decision," Goodell said.
Many have speculated that Vick would become a lightning rod for animal rights groups and others if he is reinstated and added to a team's roster, but Goodell said he believes the public will apply the same standard he'll use when determining whether to allow the quarterback to return.
"Our issue is trying to do the right thing and represent the NFL in the best possible way," said the commissioner, whose institution and enforcement of a personal-conduct policy has had him send Vick and numerous other stars to the sidelines for off-the-field trouble.
"Michael did an egregious thing. He has paid a very significant price for that," Goodell said. "If he's learned from that and is prepared to live a different life, I think the general public is forgiving on that when people are genuine and they show remorse and are prepared to live a different life. That's something he has to prove to myself and the general public."
"Hopefully," Goodell said later, "he's learned from that."
Vick, 28 and once the NFL's highest-paid player with a seven-year contract for $130 million, is scheduled to be released from the federal penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kan., on July 20, but he could be transferred to home confinement in Hampton as early as May 21.
Goodell laughed at the suggestion that his no-nonsense approach to discipline has earned him a reputation as the sheriff of the NFL and said it's his least favorite role. But he said he also has learned that taking the game away from misbehaving players is usually effective.
"Players love to play the game, coaches love to coach the game. You don't want to do that," Goodell said. "Our efforts here are to try to have people avoid making mistakes, not having to discipline them. I'm not trying to reinforce failures; we're trying to create success."
It's frustrating, Goodell told the audience of about 250, when one player's misdeeds draw a lot of attention and leave people feeling the league is filled with out-of-control athletes.
"The thing that I get most frustrated about with our player conduct is that our players are, virtually all of them, are wonderful young men," Goodell said. "They do great things in their community, and when you have a couple that don't behave responsibly, it reflects poorly on all of them, and people make assumptions about them and stereotype them. ... They have to recognize that it's a privilege to play in this league, but that it comes with a responsibility, and that responsibility is something to be held accountable for because it reflects on all of us.
"That shield is something I talk about," he said. "Do not reflect poorly on that shield."
Goodell also said that he believes the proposal to do away with two preseason games and expand the regular season schedule to 18 games makes sense, especially with the economic downturn, because the preseason games don't live up to the standard of NFL quality.
"We're potentially taking two games that are meaningless and making them meaningful," he said, noting that teams will play the same number of games overall. "We have to create more value for our fans. They're paying for those games right now. They don't like them. They don't reflect well on the NFL. They're not up to the NFL standard. We want to give them a better-quality product, and that's one way of doing that, and it's all within that 20-game format."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press