Suspended Falcons QB Vick leaves federal prison for home confinement

HAMPTON, Va. -- Michael Vick is out of prison and headed home, broke and reviled for running a vicious dogfighting ring but hopeful for a second chance at his once-charmed life as an NFL star.

The suspended Atlanta Falcons quarterback served 19 months in prison on the dogfighting conviction that capped one of the most astonishing falls in sports history -- one that stole Vick's wealth and popularity.

"Football is on the back-burner for now," said agent Joel Segal, who negotiated Vick's 10-year, $130 million contract with the Falcons but will ask for substantially less if his tarnished client's suspension is lifted by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

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Falcons owner Arthur Blank said Vick deserves a second chance, but it won't be with Atlanta, which has said it will sever ties with its former star.

Vick, who turns 29 in June, left the federal penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kan., by car early Wednesday, undetected by hordes of reporters who had staked out the prison. He was accompanied on the 1,200-mile ride by his fiancee, Kijafa Frink, a videographer and several members of a security team assembled by Vick's lawyers and advisers, a person familiar with the plans told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the person wasn't authorized to comment on the matter. The person didn't know the reason for the videographer.

Avoiding the media will be tougher in Hampton, Va., where Vick will serve two months in home confinement. His five-bedroom brick house is at the end of a cul-de-sac, where at least six satellite trucks and several reporters and camera crews awaited his return. Out back, between the house and a pond, maintenance workers got Vick's swimming pool ready before his arrival.

Vick was sentenced to 23 months in federal prison for financing a dogfighting conspiracy. He won't be released from federal custody until July 20, but his departure from Leavenworth begins a new chapter.

"It's a happy day for him to be starting this part of the process," said Larry Woodward, Vick's Virginia-based attorney. "He looks forward to meeting the challenges he has to meet."

Vick's ultimate goal is a return to the NFL, but Woodward said the quarterback's first priority "is spending time with his children and his loved ones."

Chief among Vick's challenges is rehabilitating his image and convincing the public and Goodell that he is truly sorry for his crime and that he is prepared to live a different life -- goals that will depend more on deeds than words.

"It goes beyond, 'Has he paid his debt to society?' Because I think that from a legal standpoint and financially and personally, he has," Blank said at the NFL Spring Meeting Wednesday.

Part of Vick's problem was the company he kept, Blank said, and weeding out the bad influences and associating with people who have his best interests at heart will be a key to redemption and a possible return to the NFL.

"There's the expression 'you are what you eat,'" Blank said. "To some extent, you are who you hang with, too, and that does have an effect on lives for all of us."

Vick's NFL future remains a mystery.

"Mike's already paid his dues," Falcons wide receiver Roddy White said Wednesday. "He wants to play football. I think if he gets reinstated before the season, there'll be a couple of teams that will be after him and give him a chance to play."

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said Vick doesn't deserve that chance until he passes psychological tests proving that he's capable of feeling genuine remorse.

"Our position would be the opportunity to play in the NFL is a privilege, not a right," PETA spokesman Dan Shannon said.

First up for Vick is a $10-an-hour job as a laborer for a construction company. That job is part of his probation, and Vick will find out more about the restrictions he faces in home confinement when he meets with his probation officer later this week. Vick also will be equipped with an electronic monitor.

The Humane Society of the United States said Vick recently met its president in prison and wants to work on a program aimed at eradicating dogfighting among urban teens.

Billy Martin, another of Vick's attorneys, said his client chose to work with the animal protection group because it was one of his harshest critics before he was indicted.

"Now it's time for Mike's deeds to speak for themselves," Martin said.

Karen Pierce, a board member of a foundation that Vick established in 2006 to help disadvantaged youths in his hometown of Newport News, Va., and Atlanta, also has said her former seventh-grade English student has told her one of his priorities after his release will be to get that program back up and running.

DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association, said the group supports Vick and his family "as he works to rebuild his life."

Vick also has many financial problems to resolve. He filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in July, but his reorganization plan was rejected last month by a judge who ordered him to draft a new one. The judge was concerned about the feasibility of the plan, which is based largely on Vick's return to the NFL.

Vick will be on three years of probation. He also pleaded guilty to a state dogfighting charge in November and received a three-year suspended sentence.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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