As the case against Michael Vick goes forward, I think it's important to pause a moment and think about this.
R.L. White, president of the Atlanta chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said the Atlanta Falcons quarterback has been vilified by animal rights groups, talk radio and the news media and prematurely punished by his team and corporate sponsors.
"If Mr. Vick is guilty, he should pay for his crime, but to treat him as he is being treated now is also a crime," White said at a news conference. "Be restrained in your premature judgment until the legal process is completed."
On Monday, Tony Taylor, a co-defendant in the case, pleaded guilty in Virginia to federal dogfighting conspiracy charges in a plea agreement with prosecutors. Purnell Peace of Virginia Beach and Quanis Phillips of Atlanta face similar charges and are scheduled for trial Nov. They remain free without bond.
Businesses have been quick to recoil. Nike suspended its lucrative contract with Vick and Reebok stopped sales of his No. 7 jersey. In addition, two trading card companies withdrew Vick items.
White plans to contact Vick to see what assistance the Atlanta NAACP chapter can offer. White predicted that public opinion may worsen in the wake of Taylor's plea deal.
Until then, he said he would keep an open mind and encouraged others to do the same.
That said, I have no quarrel with any of Vick's business associates who want to drop him like a bad habit. They don't require reasonable doubt, and if they want to sever all ties - or just put them on ice till things clear up, if they do - over Vick's being indicted, that's fine by me. People have lost marketing deals for far less than this. If Vick succeeds in clearing his name, as he's been saying on Atlanta radio that he wants to do, then the opportunities will come back.
Meanwhile, it'll get a little hotter for Vick as one of his codefendants has taken a plea and agreed to testify for the feds.
As part of a plea agreement, Tony Taylor pledged to fully cooperate with the government in its prosecution of Vick and two other men accused of running an interstate dogfighting enterprise known as "Bad Newz Kennels" on Vick's property in rural Surry County.
"The 'Bad Newz Kennels' operation and gambling monies were almost exclusively funded by Vick," a summary of facts supporting the plea agreement and signed by Taylor states.
The plea deal requires Taylor to testify against Vick and his two remaining co-defendants if called upon to do so. Taylor cannot get a stiffer sentence or face any new charges based on any new information he provides, according to terms of the agreement.
Additional charges are possible, however, against Vick and the other two. Federal prosecutors have said a superseding indictment will be issued in August.
Taylor, 34, of Hampton, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to travel in interstate commerce in aid of unlawful activities, and conspiring to sponsor a dog in an animal fighting venture.
Taylor, who will be sentenced Dec. 14, said he was not promised any specific sentence in return for his cooperation with the government.
He faces a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, although federal sentencing guidelines likely will call for less. The range will be determined by the court's probation office, but the judge can depart from that range if he finds aggravating or mitigating circumstances.