EDITORIAL: Vick is unlikely advocate

York Dispatch
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mike Vick poses for selfies after a news conference Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, at the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa. Vick is lobbing Pennsylvania legislators on a bill that would help protect pets left in hot cars. Vick was a star quarterback for the NFL's Atlanta Falcons when he pleaded guilty in 2007 to being part of a dogfighting ring and ended up serving 21 months in prison. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

The issue is a most vital one: animal protection.

And the advocate is a most unlikely one: Michael Vick of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Vick got the star treatment when he met with lawmakers in Harrisburg this week to tout two pieces of legislation that would help ensure the well-being of animals.

The bill would shield first responders from liability for any property damage they cause when rescuing animals from unattended cars and trucks in extreme heat that endangers their health and well-being. Leaving a cat or dog in an unattended vehicle under such conditions would be a summary offense under the bill.

We think this is an excellent bill, and we call for its passage straightaway.

Vick was a star quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons when he pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy charges in 2007 for his role in a dogfighting ring. He served nearly two years in prison. He has played in seven NFL seasons since, including five with the Philadelphia Eagles. The Hampton, Virginia, native is now a backup quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers and, off the field, an advocate for animal welfare.

We applaud state Rep. Kevin Schreiber of York City for welcoming anyone's support, even Vick's. Schreiber said he hopes the legislation gets some "traction" following this week's event with the Steelers QB.

It's abhorrent what Vick was messed up in, and he faced his consequences.

We initially couldn't help but have our doubts regarding his sincerity — but at the end of the day, everyone has the right to atone and make better choices after paying their debt to society.

''I know that I'm an enlightened advocate'' for animal welfare, Vick said. ''I was part of the problem when I was at my lowest. I made decisions to make change and I stand by them.''

We're not sure any punishment is severe enough to make those who participate in dogfighting pay, but what's done is done, and if this famous athlete can advocate for the well-being of animals going forward — and that results in legislation to protect vulnerable animals — it's a positive outcome to a very negative chapter.