Goodell held off Falcons owner

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By telling Michael Vick on Monday not to report to Atlanta Falcons’ training camp today, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell overruled Falcons owner Arthur Blank, who had planned to suspend his star quarterback for the season’s first four games in the wake of Vick’s July 17 indictment on dogfighting charges.

But the NFL asked the Falcons to hold off while the league conducts its own investigation.

The federal indictment says Vick and three associates used his Virginia property to hold dogfights over the past six years. Dogs deemed not up to par were killed by drowning, shooting, hanging and electrocution. Vick, who faces up to six years in prison and a $350,000 fine, reportedly joined in the killing of eight dogs on one occasion this offseason.

Vick is due to be arraigned tomorrow in Richmond. The federal conspiracy charges say he and his associates bought and sponsored dogs and traveled across state lines to participate in illegal activity, including dogfighting and gambling.

“This sort of behavior is really horrific,” Blank said from Atlanta in the first comments by the Falcons since Vick’s indictment. “These charges are extremely serious. This is not about playing football in 2007. This is about having a life going forward.

“My only personal suggestion to Michael would be to focus on his defense and focus on putting his life together. This is a very difficult process he’ll be going through over the next couple of months. It’s very difficult to do that and focus on football at the same time.”

Goodell, who was in District yesterday, was incredulous that one of his league’s biggest names could be involved in an activity he termed despicable.

“The NFL is very disappointed that Michael has put himself in this position,” said Goodell, sitting next to NFL Players Association executive director Gene Upshaw, a self-described dog lover who agreed with the commissioner’s stance. “We’re very concerned about the allegations, but they are allegations right now.

“I thought it was appropriate as a next step that we tell Michael that he not report to camp so that we can continue our review as quickly as possible, make the determination about how it fits within our personal conduct policy. … It struck a very emotional chord. We hear our fans very clearly. From the moment you read that indictment, it turns your stomach.”

Goodell, who has suspended three other players this offseason for half of or all of the 2007 season, is determined not to give special treatment to one of the league’s major drawing cards. However, the commissioner also doesn’t want to get ahead of the legal process.

“I am not concerned whether it’s a star player or the 53rd player,” Goodell said. “They all reflect on the National Football League. … We’re not trying to circumvent the legal process. On the other hand, what are we going to do that’s responsible to the National Football League and our fans? It’s a priority to get all the facts as clear as possible as quickly as possible. We’re well aware that the season is fast approaching. We would like our fans talking about football rather than this kind of issue.”

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