As Michael Vick waits for a second chance in the NFL, the Humane Society of the United States, the nation's largest animal welfare group, has decided to offer Vick the opportunity to help prompt change in society.
It is a development that certainly will go a long way toward helping Vick rehabilitate his image in the eyes of the public at large and potential employers in particular. Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society, says the group plans to partner with Vick in developing programs aimed at eliminating dogfighting.
Vick is scheduled to leave the federal prison in Leavenworth, Kan., sometime Wednesday, and finish the rest of his 23-month sentence for a dogfighting conspiracy in home confinement in Hampton, Va.
The Humane Society believes that because of Vick's profile and perspective, he can have the greatest impact in urban communities, Pacelle said.
"We were very involved in criticizing Vick for conduct which we found reprehensible, and we strongly supported law enforcement and judicial action that led to his incarceration," Pacelle told ESPN.com on Tuesday. "I don't think anyone was tougher on him than we were. But the goal was never the continued punitive treatment of Michael Vick. The goal has always been to eradicate dogfighting in America and around the world."
Pacelle said he was approached with the idea of working with the former star quarterback several months ago by Vick's representatives. After meeting with Vick at the federal prison camp, Pacelle said, he decided just within the past week that working with Vick was the right move for the society and its missions.
Specifics are to be determined, but Pacelle made it clear that the expectation on both sides is for Vick to contribute more to the cause than public service announcements. A source close to Vick said he has agreed to be more than a spokesperson. Pacelle believes Vick can do the most good in the area the society believes is of greatest need -- urban outreach and prevention.
"We've done a lot of work on the law enforcement side," Pacelle said, "but one area we've invested resources but that remains a major cultural and sociological problem is outreach to young African-Americans in urban centers where there's widespread dogfighting. I'm open to the possibility of plugging [Michael Vick] into programs and activities in order to ward off these boys from illegal dogfighting activities.
"It's 'boots on the ground,' not just PSAs and talk but doing work with young people consistent with the work we do now."
Pacelle said the understanding is that Vick won't just do what needs to be done to get back into the NFL. "It's when the spotlight is off the work continues," Pacelle said. "It's a long-term commitment to turning around this problem."
Pacelle said that in their meeting, Vick "clearly expressed remorse and contrition, but that's not what convinced me to think about plugging him into these programs.
"He may be able to move the ball down the field. But it's up to him to make the most of the experience."
Pacelle continued: "If he's sincere about it and in it for the long haul, then he can be an agent for change. If he's not sincere about it, it's a failing of his, not of ours. He needs to prove himself to us and the rest of the country. We're just giving him better platforms to prove himself. We're about the business of change. Michael has a real opportunity here."
Michael Smith is a reporter for ESPN.