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Vick in court next week

NFL will let him play -- for now

RICHMOND, Va. -- This much we know: Michael Vick won't be on the field when the Atlanta Falcons open training camp next Thursday. He'll be in a federal courtroom.

What happens after that was anyone's guess yesterday, and there was no shortage of opinions.

Suspend him. Cut him. Let him play until he's proven guilty of felony charges that he sponsored a gruesome dogfighting operation.

For the time being, that's what the NFL intends to do with the star quarterback -- let him play.

After consulting with the Falcons, commissioner Roger Goodell and top league officials agreed to let the legal process determine the facts.

A person with knowledge of the meeting, who requested anonymity so the case would not be influenced, said the NFL would stick to that position for the foreseeable future, despite its new personal conduct policy.

The NFL players' union took the same stance as the league.

"It's unfortunate that Michael Vick is in this position, as these allegations are extremely disturbing and offensive," the union said in a statement.

"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. Hopefully, these allegations are untrue and Michael will be able to continue his NFL career."

Vick and three associates must appear in Richmond next week for bond hearings and arraignments on charges contained in a detailed, 18-page indictment handed up Tuesday.

The four are accused of competitive dogfighting, procuring and training pit bulls for fighting, and conducting the enterprise across state lines.

The operation was named "Bad Newz Kennels," according to the indictment, and the dogs were housed, trained, and fought at a property owned by Vick in Surry County, Va.

Conviction carries up to six years in prison, fines of $350,000, and restitution.

Nike, one of Vick's sponsors, said in an e-mail to the Associated Press that it is aware of the indictment and is "reviewing the information," but declined to comment on whether Vick's deal is in jeopardy.

Nike relies heavily on its endorsements with athletes and, historically, has not been quick to dump them amid allegations of misdoing.

Nike kept a $45 million contract with basketball star Kobe Bryant when he was arrested on charges of sexually assaulting a female employee at a Colorado resort.

The criminal charges against Bryant later were dropped, but Nike did not use his image in advertising for two years following the arrest.

In a letter to Goodell, Falcons owner Arthur Blank, and Vick's corporate sponsors, hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons and the Reverend Al Sharpton joined with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Humane Society of the United States in calling for strong stands against animal cruelty.

"Today, we sound a clarion call to all people: Stand up for what is right, and speak out against what is wrong. Dogfighting is unacceptable. Hurting animals for human pleasure or gain is despicable. Cruelty is just plain wrong," the letter said.

Goodell and Blank met with Vick in May after the investigation started, telling him to straighten up or risk discipline.

Material from AP business writer Harry R. Weber was used in this report.

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