The NFL says it is ready to judge Michael Vick by the legal standard to which all Americans are entitled: innocent until proven guilty.
The problem is that it didn't do the same for Adam ``Pacman'' Jones, who has yet to be convicted of anything but has been suspended for a year with no guarantee of a career even when that year is up.
That is commissioner Roger Goodell's bind. He suspended Jones, Cincinnati's Chris Henry and former Chicago Bear Tank Johnson to emphasize he will not tolerate the kind of out-of-control behavior that seemed so rampant in the NFL last season.
It works with Henry and Johnson. Each was tossed for eight games. But Tennessee's Jones, who has had 10 encounters with the police since he was the fifth overall pick in the draft two years ago, was suspended before he was even charged with the most serious of his offenses - two felony counts of coercion during a shooting at a Las Vegas strip club that left a man paralyzed.
League and Atlanta Falcons officials caucused Wednesday and agreed to stand by the statement the NFL issued immediately after Vick was indicted on charges of sponsoring a dogfighting operation.
The gist: ``Michael Vick's guilt has not yet been proven and we believe that all concerned should allow the legal process to determine the facts.''
The NFL Players' Association issued a similar statement; executive director Gene Upshaw also has been involved in talks with the team and the league.
``It's unfortunate that Michael Vick is in this position, as these allegations are extremely disturbing and offensive,'' the union said. ``This case is now in the hands of the judicial system and we have to allow the legal process to run its course. However, we recognize Michael still has the right to prove his innocence.''
Nothing unusual there. It's the American way and it's been followed before in cases involving stars like Ray Lewis and Jamal Lewis.
But the Jones case has turned things around.
Animal rights groups and others are arguing that under Goodell's union-sanctioned player conduct policy, he can suspended the Falcons' star quarterback right now.
It was the first question that came up after the indictment - the direct result of what is perceived as Goodell's strong stance on player behavior. Exacerbating it all is the fact that the player involved is one of the NFL's most identifiable figures - a star quarterback who was the first player taken in the 2001 draft.
There are arguments for suspending Jones and withholding judgment on Vick.
For one thing, Jones has clearly indicated he doesn't get it.
No sooner had he met with Goodell and promised that he'd stop going to clubs than he was stopped again at 3:30 a.m. Johnson had the same problem. After a jail sentence for violating probation on a gun charge, he promised he would work to become the NFL's ``Man of the Year.''
Then on June 22, he was arrested in a Phoenix suburb on suspicion of drunk driving. Tests later showed his blood alcohol level was below the legal limit but by then the Bears already had cut him.
Henry was arrested four times in a 14-month span, and served two days in jail last January after pleading guilty to letting minors drink alcohol in a hotel room he had rented.
What about Vick?
After the initial reports of dead dogs on property he owns in Virginia, he met with Falcons owner Arthur Blank and Goodell and was warned to straighten up. At the time, Vick told them he wasn't involved in dogfighting.
This came after a couple of other episodes: a $10,000 fine for an obscene gesture at fans as he was leaving the field after a loss and one at Miami International Airport where security officers seized a water bottle they said smelled of marijuana and had a hidden compartment.
Authorities later said there were no drugs in the bottle, and Vick said he used the secret compartment to carry jewelry.
Vick will be punished by the league if he is convicted. ``The activities alleged are cruel, degrading and illegal,'' the NFL statement said. He could go to jail and when he comes out, he could find himself without a job for at least a year.
Meantime, those who cry about a double standard will have their poster child.
Pacman Jones, of all people.

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