Vick, who retired from football in 2017, is regarded by many football fans as one of the most culturally impactful NFL players of his era. However, his legacy was tarnished with a 2007 arrest for his participation in a dogfighting ring — a crime for which he served 18 months in a federal prison. Petition organizers cited Vick’s dogfighting history, writing on Change.org that “to honor a man who had zero regard for animals is unacceptable.”
“Over the last nine years or so, I have supported Michael and his, I think, recognition of the mistake that he made,” Goodell told reporters at a press conference Wednesday, according to the Washington Post. “He’s paid every price for that. He has been accountable for it. He has worked aggressively with the Humane Society and other institutions to deal with animal rights and to make sure people don’t make the same mistake he made. And I admire that.”
Following his release from prison, Vick made public apologies for his participation in the dogfighting ring, known as Bad Newz Kennels, and went on to join the Eagles as a quarterback. During his five seasons with the Birds, Vick threw 57 touchdowns, and was named the 2010 NFL Comeback Player of the Year, after leading the team to the playoffs.
In 2014, while with the Jets, Vick was a vocal supporter of the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act, a law that made attending organized animal fights illegal. The following year, as a Pittsburgh Steeler, he met with Pennsylvania lawmakers in support of the so-called “pets in cars” bill, which gives police officers legal authority to rescue animals from cars in unsafe temperatures.
“I know that I’m an unlikely advocate,” Vick said at the time, according to ESPN. “I was part of the problem. Now, my perspective can help reach people that activists can’t reach. I can help others become agents of change.”
Goodell acknowledged that despite Vick’s attempts at penance, there are “some people out there who will never forgive him.”
“He knows that,” Goodell said. “But I think this is a young man that has really taken his life in a positive direction, and we support that.”