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NFL's riches and fame don't come for free

Way to go, Michael Vick.

It doesn't matter whether you're innocent or guilty of those federal dogfighting charges, you've just trashed your reputation. From now on, when people see you, they're going to think of electrocuted puppies.

The NFL affords you fame and riches galore. In return, you have certain responsibilities - to your teammates, to your organization, to the league and, most important to the fans, the people who make your charmed life possible.

Nothing too oppressive. Just that you behave like the law-abiding citizen you should be anyway. That you're not on a first-name basis with the local D.A.

Is that too much to ask?

Apparently so, because Vick's indictment is the latest episode in what's beginning to look like the NFL version of "Court TV."

This time, one of the league's brightest stars is front and center in a scandal that has the entire country talking. A few members of Congress even weighed in.

Just what the NFL wanted the week before training camps open.

"We are disappointed that Michael Vick has put himself in a position where a federal grand jury has returned an indictment against him," NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said after the indictments were announced.

It's a safe bet commissioner Roger Goodell used stronger words than that.

The new commissioner is adamant that off-the-field issues not sully the image of the nation's most popular league, a cash cow for everyone involved. He's toughened up the personal conduct code and let it be known he's holding players and teams accountable for bad behavior.

The allegations against Vick are just that, allegations, and he's entitled to his day in court. But regardless of the outcome, the Atlanta Falcons quarterback already has been proven guilty of stupidity and selfishness.

He gave Falcons fans the middle-finger salute last November and was at the center of a tawdry lawsuit over a sexually transmitted disease. He had a run-in with security at the Miami airport after officers said a water bottle he was carrying smelled of marijuana and had a secret compartment. No drugs were found in the bottle.

Both Falcons owner Arthur Blank and Goodell have told Vick to start making better choices. The Falcons, after all, are shelling out $130 million over 10 years for his arm and his feet, and he's one of the NFL's most recognizable players.

So what does Vick do? At worst, he is found to be an active partner in a dogfighting operation the details of which are hideous enough to turn your stomach. At best, he allowed himself to be sucked into a mess.

Either way, he should know better.

The majority of NFL players manage to act responsibly.

If it's a challenge, Michael Vick, go to your luxurious home, complete with big-screen TVs and every other technological marvel, lock the doors, put away all cell phones and PDAs, and chill. If it's old friends bringing you down, ditch 'em. Anyone who would willingly put your hefty paycheck at risk is no friend.

And even though the NFL considers you innocent until proven guilty, you still may be hearing from the commissioner.

Pacman Jones is sitting out the season after a series of transgressions, the most egregious being a strip club misadventure that preceded a triple shooting that left a man paralyzed. (As proof he's a charter member of the clueless club, Jones is hoping the season-long suspension doesn't apply to training camp.)

Banned for the first half of the season, Tank Johnson is also out a team after a lengthy list of misdeeds, including a trip to a bar that ended with his best friend and bodyguard dead. Jared Allen has been suspended for two games and ordered to cough up his check from a third after a second DUI arrest.

Goodell's message has been clear: Playing in the NFL is a privilege, not a right.

Think about that, Michael Vick, and let it sink in.

And then do whatever it takes to make fans forget about those dead dogs.

Nancy Armour is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to her at

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