ATLANTA (AP) - NAACP leaders urged public restraint Monday in judging Michael Vick before he has his day in court.
R.L. White, president of the Atlanta chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said the Atlanta Falcons quarterback has been vilified by animal rights groups, talk radio and the news media and prematurely punished by his team and corporate sponsors.
"If Mr. Vick is guilty, he should pay for his crime, but to treat him as he is being treated now is also a crime," White said at a news conference. "Be restrained in your premature judgment until the legal process is completed."
Vick has pleaded not guilty to charges of sponsoring a dogfighting operation.
On Monday, Tony Taylor, a co-defendant in the case, pleaded guilty in Virginia to federal dogfighting conspiracy charges in a plea agreement with prosecutors. Purnell Peace of Virginia Beach and Quanis Phillips of Atlanta face similar charges and are scheduled for trial Nov. They remain free without bond.
Businesses have been quick to recoil. Nike suspended its lucrative contract with Vick and Reebok stopped sales of his No. 7 jersey. In addition, two trading car companies withdrew Vick items.
White plans to contact Vick to see what assistance the Atlanta NAACP chapter can offer. White predicted that public opinion may worsen in the wake of Taylor's plea deal.
Until then, he said he would keep an open mind and encouraged others to do the same.
Georgia NAACP President Edward Dubose thanked Vick for his community service and the money and excitement he has brought to Georgia as a Falcon. Dubose said Vick is being prosecuted in the court of public opinion before he has had a chance to defend himself.
Atlanta chapter member Bernadette Allen attended the news conference and also a rally Sunday to support Vick.
"The man is entitled to due process under the law, as is any citizen," Allen said.