Washington (CNN) -- From one-time participant to present-day activist against the illegal sport of animal fighting, Michael Vick came to Capitol Hill Tuesday in support of legislation that would criminalize spectators and others who organize the fighting.
While trying to keep young people from taking part, the legislation more broadly hopes to make it easier to prosecute people who finance and arrange the gambling, provide locations for fights to happen and otherwise have knowledge of the activity.
Vick, now a star quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles, was released from prison in 2009 after serving 20 months of a sentence for a dogfighting conviction. His case involved bankrolling illicit animal fights in the state of Virginia.
"I deeply regret my previous involvement in dogfighting, I'm sorry for what I did to the animals," Vick told a news conference. "During my time in prison, I told myself I wanted to be part of the solution, not the problem."
He was accompanied by the head of the Humane Society of the United States, Wayne Pacelle, who acknowledged it was initially difficult to consider accepting Vick's offer of help, until he realized Vick could carry some influence.
"The biggest growth area for dogfighting was urban-based dogfighting," Pacelle said. "Michael's own story starting as a young boy getting involved in dogfighting I thought was a very powerful testimonial. ...
"We both agreed that the best thing he could do was speak to these kids because of the platform that he has as an NFL star and to warn them away from this conduct," Pacelle said.
The House bill, introduced last week, would establish federal misdemeanor penalties against convicted spectators, and make it a felony for adults found responsible for spectators who are children.
At the Capitol Hill news conference, organizers played some local television news coverage showing illicit cockfights, including the participants and the surrounding scene.
Vick told reporters the video took him right to the problem.
"To see the young kid walking with the cock, you know, was astonishing," Vick said. "It was taking place in a similar setting of what I've been around before.
"This is what our kids are being taught," he said, "and it's inhumane and it's pointless.
"That child could be doing so much more with his life, instead of walking around with a cock in his hand, waiting to fight, even if he's not involved, being there, his presence speaks volumes as to what goes on when people's heads are turned."
The Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act (H.R. 2492) was introduced by Reps. Tom Marino, R-Pennsylvania, and Betty Sutton, D-Ohio. Sutton was at the news conference along with Rep. Jim Moran, D-Virginia, who is among the co-sponsors.