Would the public be clamoring just as loudly for Michael Vick's head if he'd come clean after being caught with a suitcase full of illegal steroids? Or cocaine? Or beating up a woman?
Just asking.
Because in all those cases, depending on aggravating circumstances and a number of other factors, the fine and jail time Vick would face after pleading guilty - in his case, to a federal dogfighting conspiracy charge - could be roughly the same. In terms of what else Vick stands to lose, it isn't even close.
s from trading-card sets. And even after serving his time, he may be barred from playing in the NFL again.
Vick formally entered his plea Monday before U.S. District Court Judge Henry E. Hudson, but commissioner Roger Goodell had already suspended him indefinitely without pay. In a statement released Friday, Goodell made clear that Vick's involvement in illegal gambling could trigger a lifetime ban under the league's personal conduct policy.
``I'm totally responsible, and those things just didn't have to happen,'' Vick said after his court appearance. ``I feel like we all make mistakes. It's just, I made a mistake in using bad judgment and making bad decisions. And you know, those things, you know, just can't happen.''
``Dogfighting is a terrible thing,'' he added, ``and I did reject it.''
At this point, it's worth noting that players who have committed crimes every bit as heinous have long since returned to the NFL. Jamal Lewis pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy charges in 2004 for trying to set up a drug deal. He spent the 2005 offseason serving time, was suspended by Goodell's predecessor, Paul Tagliabue, for Baltimore's first two games the following season and begins this one on the Cleveland Browns' roster.
Ray Lewis, Jamal's former teammate but no relation, pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in a murder investigation. St. Louis' Leonard Little is still rushing passers despite pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter after killing a woman while driving drunk in 1998, then getting stopped for drunken driving again just three years ago. And despite a number of arrests and even convictions, not even one NFL player charged with domestic violence has been suspended.
Last week, I wrote that Goodell should give Vick another chance to play, provided he accepts full responsibility for his actions and serves his time. That sentiment hasn't changed. It's hard to imagine Goodell being confronted with a decision until the 2009 season, at the earliest, which should give Vick time enough to demonstrate he's worthy of another opportunity. The way things stand, he might need every day.
So keep in mind that we're still much closer to the beginning of this saga than the end. Vick's appearance in federal court triggered another round of headlines, but more than news developments have been driving this story since the indictments surfaced in April. It touches celebrity, race, cruelty to animals, the aforementioned gambling and a few other topics a 24/7 news cycle didn't need any help turning into hype.
Help came, anyway, from a well-organized, well-funded animal rights lobby that mobilized protests, demanding zero tolerance for Vick from the NFL and threatening to boycott any company that continues to sponsor him.
But let's be clear: Vick deserves everything that happens to him from here on out. In his plea agreement, Vick admits he helped kill dogs. No matter how carefully his attorneys frame his involvement - ``collective efforts'' with his co-defendants is the phrase they used - it's brutality, plain and simple, erasing any distinctions of race and culture that some of Vick's defenders have tried to throw up.
In what has proved to be only the latest bizarre twist, Vick's father said as much the other day. In one of several interviews Michael Boddie gave newspaper reporters, the man who was absent for most of his son's life yet plans to write a tell-all book, says very matter-of-factly of Vick's involvement in dogfighting circles, ``I wish people would stop sugarcoating it. This is Mike's thing.''
Like everything else about this case, you just wish Boddie would disappear. Instead, he's going to try to turn a profit on this sad, sorry chapter of his son's troubled life, just like the bloggers, the T-shirt, hat and chew-toy vendors on the Internet using Vicks's name or his likeness to make a few bucks.
It's only coincidence, of course, that just a few hours after Vick walked out of Hudson's courtroom, the Falcons were scheduled to play their first exhibition home game at the same Georgia Dome the star quarterback helped sell out for years.
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitkeap.org

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