Iverson offers support to embattled Falcons QB

NORFOLK, Va. -- Allen Iverson offered some words of advice to beleaguered Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, who will be arraigned later this week on charges he sponsored a dogfighting operation in Virginia.

Iverson, who has had to contend with his own legal issues in the past, said Saturday that Vick should "keep his head up," adding he's not surprised by the volume and intensity of the criticism toward Vick, a fellow Virginia native.

"It's always been like that from day one, since there was sports," the star Denver Nuggets guard told the Daily Press of Hampton Roads, Va. "There was always a bull's-eye on us. Everybody doesn't love athletes. Some people feel like we're spoiled. Some people feel that because we are rich, we think we are above the law; we're better than everybody else.

Iverson gave an impromptu interview Saturday during a celebrity flag football game he hosted in Norfolk as part of his Allen Iverson Summer Classic Weekend.

Vick will be in court in Richmond on Thursday -- the same day the Falcons open training camp in Georgia -- for bond hearings and arraignments on charges he sponsored a dogfighting operation. Vick and three co-defendants will be asked to enter pleas to the felony charges, and a date for the federal trial likely will be set during the arraignment.

Iverson, in his interview with the Daily Press, said he didn't think pro athletes should just cut ties with old friends.

"You know, I don't think it's fair to say, 'Stay away from the people you grew up with,'" he said. "It's hard to have a relationship with people once you're already rich. You have to have a relationship with the same people you grew up with.

"But at the same time, you've got to make sure the guys are not hurting you. You've got to be smart enough to know when they're hurting you and when they're helping you."

Vick and his co-defendants are alleged to have begun the dogfighting operation, known as Bad Newz Kennels, in early 2001, the former Virginia Tech star's rookie year as the No. 1 pick. The operation was centered at a property Vick owned in Surry County.

After an April police raid on the property, Vick said he was rarely at the house and had no idea that it might have been used in a criminal enterprise. He blamed family members for taking advantage of his generosity and pledged to be more careful.

"I think he's got to figure out and find out if he's got the right people around him, and I'm sure he's smart enough to know who is good for him and who's not," Iverson said.

Iverson has overcome his own legal troubles. Five years ago he was investigated by Philadelphia authorities after allegedly breaking into his cousin's apartment and threatening him with a gun. Iverson was arrested on 14 felony and misdemeanor charges and was later cleared of all but one misdemeanor.

In 1997, Iverson pleaded no contest to gun possession.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.