Protesters speak out against Steelers' signing of Michael Vick

PITTSBURGH -- On National Dog Day, a handful of protesters convened outside the Pittsburgh Steelers' practice facility to object to the team's signing of Michael Vick.

Four women stood behind a green fence across the street from the team's South Side facility holding various signs, including one that read: "FIRST, BEN ... NOW, VICK ... WHAT NEXT."

Another read: "Jail time is not enough. Ban Vick from football." The women are from the "Justice with Animals" group, protester Ellie Gordon said.

Vick pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy charges in 2007 for his role in a dogfighting ring. He served nearly two years in prison and has played six NFL seasons since, including five with the Eagles and one with the Jets. The Steelers signed him Tuesday night.

The objective of the group is "to show the Steelers we don't approve of this," said protester Natalie Ahwesh, a season-ticket holder.

"This move is embarrassing. It's upsetting. I'm angry," Ahwesh said. "I'm not going to be able to go to the games and have fun and watch with my family. The season is ruined for me as long as he's on the team."

The group plans to protest at future practices. Police arrived at the scene Wednesday, including three patrolmen on motorcycles. The protesters were not demonstrative and remained relatively silent when not answering questions from media.

While speaking from his locker after Wednesday's practice, Vick said he doesn't pay attention to public outcries about his past because of the emotions involved. He pointed out that he recently worked with the Humane Society to help save the lives of dogs, doing "some great things that I'm very proud of."

Steelers players and coach Mike Tomlin have said they support Vick and believe he's overcome his past.

"After going through what I went through, what transpired, the best thing to do is to try to make amends for what I did," Vick said. "I can't take it back. Only thing I can do is try to inform the masses of kids to not go down the same road I went down."

Vick said he plans to get involved in local dog advocacy efforts soon, which Ahwesh said might assuage concerns locally about Vick's presence. Ahwesh would like to see Vick commit to outreach in local schools.

For now, Vick said he's concerned with perfecting his role as the backup and chasing his first championship. Vick calls starter Ben Roethlisberger a "future Hall of Famer."

"What I've heard from everybody inside this organization is there's only one goal, and that's to get a ring," Vick said. "I understand why I'm here. My role is clear. I can focus on that."