NFL, Falcons must act

The National Football League and Atlanta Falcons may be putting themselves into an unnecessary pickle.

They seem to be suggesting that the federal court case against Michael Vick must play out before they do anything.

That's nonsense.

The superstar quarterback accused of participating in a dogfighting ring - and even executing the losing dogs - is presumed innocent in a court of law. But at the league and team offices, executives can, and must, take action in a more timely manner than the courts allow.

If the league or the team are briefed on the evidence, and are confident that Vick was involved in illegal and barbaric dogfighting, then they not only have the option of giving Vick the boot right away, they have the obligation to do so.

So far, they've adopted a wait-and-see posture.

Well, baby, just wait until they see the public backlash against Vick.

Unless the federal case against Vick is shot full of holes, it's difficult to see how the Falcons can let him take the field.

Again, they don't have to wait until a federal jury renders a verdict sometime in the next year or two. They can reach their own conclusions, and take whatever actions they deem necessary to protect the integrity and image of the Falcons and the NFL.

Indeed, Tennessee Titan Adam Jones has been suspended for the entire year for repeated run-ins with police - and he's never been convicted in any of them.

The league and team also are free to consider factors a jury cannot - such as whether Vick lied to them about all this. And whether his association with unseemly types has pulled the team's and league's reputations into the sewer.

Our prediction: Growing public outrage, and the seriousness of the brutality alleged in the indictment, will not allow the NFL and Atlanta Falcons the luxury of putting off a decision on Vick's standing in the league until the court case wends its way to a conclusion.

"He'll be a running ad for the NFL as a thug league, exactly the thing (NFL Commissioner Roger) Goodell has been trying to clean up," writes Chicago Sun-Times columnist Greg Couch. "Maybe he can suspend Vick indefinitely but keep his salary in escrow until a conviction or until charges are dropped.

"The league might have to be a little creative here, might have to help pay his salary if it eventually turns out he has no hard connection with this. Whoever pays, though, the league has got to get rid of Vick now."

That was the message delivered Friday by protestors outside the NFL headquarters in New York, who demanded Vick be sacked. They promised more demonstrations in Atlanta and Virginia.

Like it or not, long court case or not, that sentiment is just starting.

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