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The fast-moving Michael Vick situation has the NFL facing an opponent even that enormously powerful sports empire might not be able to handle -- animal lovers.

The NFL has been able to take on some pretty impressive heavyweights in the past, often successfully. It went to war with Las Vegas gambling interests over using the Super Bowl to promote casino events and decisively won that battle. It's cracking down on the news industry's use of NFL team video on Web sites and limiting such usage to 45 seconds a day. And it's been in an ongoing war with the cable TV industry over how the league's NFL Network is carried.

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But now the league is facing people who care about animals, and in the emotionally charged atmosphere of the Vick-dogfighting federal indictment, the league can expect withering criticism for its wait-and-see approach to the Atlanta Falcons' quarterback.

PETA is planning a protest at the league's New York headquarters today and the Humane Society of the United States is just getting geared up with a reported 100,000 complaints sent through its Web site to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's office. So far, Goodell has declined to impose any discipline on Vick as the legal process plays out. But that cautious stance will not satisfy many among the public who were horrified by some of the more inflammatory parts of the indictment that described how some dogs were destroyed at Vick's former property in Virgina that allegedly was home base for the dogfighting operation.

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Nike, one of Vick's corporate associates, buckled under the pressure, saying it was putting on hold the release of a new Vick athletic shoe but that the Vick-related stuff on the shelves apparently will not be recalled, at least not yet.

In Atlanta, Falcons owner Arthur Blank was pleading with fans for patience.

All this has been going on with Vick out of sight. When or if he emerges for training camp, the spotlight will be incredibly harsh and the roar for action by the league will be deafening.

Photo credit: Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun

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