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NAACP supports Vick

Says QB should be allowed back in NFL

An NAACP leader believes Michael Vick should be allowed to return to the NFL, preferably the Atlanta Falcons, after serving his prison sentence for his role in a dogfighting operation.

"As a society, we should aid in his rehabilitation and welcome a new Michael Vick back into the community without a permanent loss of his career in football," said R.L. White, president of the NAACP's Atlanta chapter, yesterday. "We further ask the NFL, Falcons, and the sponsors not to permanently ban Mr. Vick from his ability to bring hours of enjoyment to fans all over this country."

White said the Falcons quarterback made a mistake and should be allowed to prove he has learned from that mistake. On Monday, Vick said through a lawyer that he will plead guilty to a federal charge of conspiracy to travel in interstate commerce in aid of unlawful activities and conspiracy to sponsor a dog in an animal fighting venture.

White said the Atlanta chapter supports Vick's decision to accept a plea bargain if it's in his best interest, but he questioned the credibility of Vick's codefendants, saying an admission of guilt might be more about cutting losses than the truth.

"Some have said things to save their own necks," White said. "Michael Vick has received more negative press than if he had killed a human being."

White added he does not support dogfighting, and that he considers it as bad as hunting. But NBA star Stephon Marbury thinks they are similar.

"I think it's tough," the New York Knicks guard told an Albany (N.Y.) TV station. "I think, you know, we don't say anything about people who shoot deer or shoot other animals. You know, from what I hear, dogfighting is a sport. It's just behind closed doors."

"I think it's tough that we build Michael Vick up and then we break him down," Marbury added. "I think he's one of the superb athletes, and he's a good human being. I just think that he fell into a bad situation."

In other news on the Vick front, the dozens of pit bulls seized from his property in Virginia face a deadline today to be claimed. Though US District Judge Henry E. Hudson, who also is handling Vick's criminal case, will determine what becomes of the pit bulls, they are likely to be euthanized because they're not adoptable as pets.

Bettis 'acted' up
Jerome Bettis, the No. 5 rusher in NFL history, claims in a new book that he faked a knee injury during training camp in 2000 so the Steelers wouldn't cut him and install Richard Huntley as the starter.

Bettis was worried offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride favored Huntley over him and the Steelers were ready to let Bettis go, partly so they wouldn't have to give him a new contract. Huntley had just signed a $4 million, three-year contract.

"Man, did I do a nice job of acting," Bettis wrote in the book, "The Bus: My Life in and Out of a Helmet." "The thing is, I wasn't faking that I had an injury. I was just faking that the injury happened on that short-yardage play. I had to fool the coaches and the team's medical department into thinking the injury had occurred on that play. Otherwise, the Steelers would have had their reason to cut me and my salary."

Colts get Sanders back
Former Pro Bowl safety Bob Sanders, a key to last season's dramatic playoff turnaround for the Colts defense, practiced for the first time since having offseason surgery on his left shoulder. He is expected to play in Saturday night's exhibition game against Detroit . . . A day after ending his 25-day holdout, Chiefs running back Larry Johnson said he doesn't think he'll be 100 percent ready for the season opener at Houston Sept. 9. "No, it'll take a little bit more than that," he said. "I'm going to try to pick up as fast as I can.". . . The Bills reinforced their depleted defensive end corps by signing seven-year veteran Al Wallace, who was cut by Carolina in a salary-cap move in February . . . Raiders coach Lane Kiffin announced that Daunte Culpepper will be his starting quarterback tomorrow night against St. Louis . . . The Broncos bolstered their defensive line by signing free agent tackle John Browning, who sat out last season with an assortment of injuries . . . 49ers receiver C.J. Brewer is expected to miss this season after tearing a ligament in his right knee Tuesday.