PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Michael Vick is barred from owning a dog for a year and a half, but the star quarterback's comment that he'd like to bring one into his house generated renewed outrage — and support.
The convicted dogfighting ring operator told the news site TheGrio.com that he genuinely cares about animals and would like to have one for a pet again.
"I think it would be a big step for me in the rehabilitation process," he said.
Vick has made similar statements before, but this time it seemed to have grabbed the world's attention. For example, the gambling website Bodog.com is offering bets on what breed of dog Vick might own in the next two years.
Vick served 18 months in prison after being convicted in 2007. A judge federal judge also sentenced him to three years probation, ending in May 2012. One of the terms: He could not own dogs during that time.
Since Vick was released from prison, he's become a touchstone for a deep debate: Can people who do bad things be redeemed?
"I really mean what I say. I don't have a problem. I'm not a psychopath. I'm not crazy. I'm a human being," Vick told The Associated Press on Thursday. "What happened in my past and what I did in the culture I grew up in doesn't shape and mold me as the person I am now. I said it before that I wish I can own a dog and I'll continue to say it. I'm not allowed to, but I'm just saying I wish I could because my kids ask me every day. It's more so for them than for me."
When he was signed by the Philadelphia Eagles last year, criticism seemed to outweigh cheers. But now that he's again a top NFL player and has spent time speaking with at-risk kids, he's gained a bigger following of fans.
Ray Morales, of Philadelphia, said that Vick has worked to turn his life around and deserves a second chance.
"They're just trying to scrutinize him way too much because of his popularity," he said. "It's hard for people to believe that someone can turn their life around, but they can."
Morales said in his home state of Florida, a friend stopped participating in dogfighting after hearing Vick talk about why it was wrong.
"He's been doing a lot to educate people about dogfighting," ''He knows he's done something wrong, people just really need to get past it and stop casting stones."
Erik Brown, a 25-year-old student from Chicago, also defended Vick online.
"I'm sure he'd be one of the most-watched dog owners on the planet, so I highly doubt he could participate in the activities that landed him in this mess in the first place," he told the AP in an e-mail interview.
Vick's comments, however, brought out plenty of critics. Many took to Twitter to lambaste the quarterback with tweets like, "Michael Vick says he'd like to own a dog someday. I'd like to own a brewery too but it's probably not a good idea."
Jane Dollinger, spokeswoman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said Vick should be banned from owning dogs for life.
Meanwhile, Humane Society of the United States President Wayne Pacelle said it's too early for Vick to have a dog, but says it could be appropriate after his probation ends.
"There may be some who would forever deny Michael Vick the opportunity to have a pet. I understand that sentiment. But there is a larger principle at stake here," he said in a statement. "We at The HSUS are about the business of change — personal and societal change."
Since his release from prison, Vick has worked with the group and makes school appearances to talk to students about his past.
Vick told TheGrio.com he's doing that work because he wants to.
"The court doesn't make it an obligation for me to go out and speak," Vick said. "It doesn't make it an obligation for me to work with the Humane Society. I'm putting in the hard work to do it so it's not for any personal benefit, it's to help others."
Associated Press writers Rob Maaddi and JoAnn Loviglio in Philadelphia and Joe Mandak in Pittsburgh contributed to this report.