Quarantine Reads: Michael Vick's "Finally Free" Autobiography Shows True Transformation
Updated: Oct 8, 2020
During Quarantine 2020, we've decided to give you recommendations of sports-related books to read that will inspire and motivate.
Michael Vick was perhaps the biggest sports name of the early 2000s. The Virginia Tech standout was the first Black quarterback to be selected as the No.1 overall pick when the Atlanta Falcons selected him in the 2001 NFL Draft. The rest of the story is a wild ride that Vick details himself in his 2012 autobiography "Finally Free."
Readers hear firsthand how Vick grew up in the projects of Newport News, Virginia with a hardworking mother and a doting grandmother. They learn how he actually wasn't the best local quarterback in high school. That title went to Ronald Curry, a two-sport athlete who went on to play as a UNC Tar Heel and had a seven-year career at wide receiver in the NFL before becoming a coach.
"For four years, I was second-best. But it made me want to be the best — the best ever," Vick writes.
He details how redshirting his freshman year at Virginia Tech helped him get his bearings as a college athlete. It's clear having no such bridge between his success leading the Hokies and the NFL spotlight was difficult for him. "Finally Free" explores the various factors that trapped a young Vick: the weight of being a superstar athlete in his early 20s, more money than he knew how to handle and a secret double life as part of a dogfighting ring that led to his demise.
Throughout the book, Vick's remorse seems poignantly authentic. He cringes to look back at times such as the one where he lied to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's face about his involvement in the dogfighting ring. He reflects on the various red flags that he should have paid more attention to and regrets the small decisions he made as a youth that introduced him to the dogfighting world.
"Finally Free" is aware of the fine line between giving context to how Vick got so entrenched into dogfighting in the first place and glorifying criminal activity. Vick details how dogfighting was normalized in his neighborhood, with OGs running their own rings and holding fights at local parks. No one ever questioned anything.
In a part of the book where he describes what the environment is like at a fight, he stops himself, "I could go into more detail, but I don't want to teach people how to run a dogfight. I don't want to glorify it. But I will tell you that I know too much about it, and it's something I wish I'd never learned."
Readers are left with the striking question of what if? As the narrative moves along, Vick reveals that he was relying on his natural talent for much of the first wave of his career, from Pro Day before the Draft all the way until his last day as a Falcon. Even with his lack of dedication to the sport, Vick was selected to three Pro Bowls, a Madden cover and established himself as an elite cultural icon before being sent to prison for nearly two years. One can only imagine the type of player he would have been had he fully committed to his craft.
It is clear that Vick's faith has driven him forward through his darkest times. He details how his grandmother instilled a belief in God that he later abandoned when the spotlight was brightest. But being humbled and having everything taken away made him return to his roots. His reignited faith was encouraged by veteran coach Tony Dungy, who received criticism for mentoring someone many had given up on. Dungy wrote the foreword for "Finally Free."
There's a moment toward the end of the book where Vick hesitantly lists off his accomplishments of the 2010-2011 season when he was the starting quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles. The team gave him a second chance, something he expresses tremendous gratitude for. Vick's intention in sharing about the Monday Night Massacre where he scored six touchdowns and other accolades from that year is clear.
"Some of what will follow here is almost embarrassing for me to include, but my coauthors [Sports Spectrum's Brett Honeycutt and Stephen Copeland], publisher and I believe we need to do so in order to best characterize the season and to make sure things are presented fully and accurately," he writes. "One of the main reasons this is important is because God did amazing things in my life and career through the course of this season and I want to make absolutely certain He is glorified. So please know that it is with humility and a desire for God to get the credit that I present these to you."
For supplemental material, ESPN's 30 for 30 "Vick" (a two-part series) provides additional context and a wider cultural lens. It names Vick as the Allen Iverson of football for his bold hip-hop persona and analyzes how the diversity of the city of Atlanta along with the rising rap scene was a solid breeding ground for the quarterback to become his own person. It helps bring understanding to why he was — and continues to be — vilified by the mainstream media and shares insight from those close to him to help show that Vick did, indeed, take accountability for his actions in the end.
It is unfortunate that references to hip-hop culture are few and far between in "Finally Free." Perhaps Worthy Publishing, a faith-based company, was hesitant to promote a culture that introduced Vick to dogfighting and is known for glorifying drugs and violence. Or maybe it was Vick's own discernment to leave out those details of his life. In general, there is a vast gap between hip-hop and Evangelical culture and "Finally Free" had a great opportunity to serve as somewhat of a bridge. But what it leaves out in regards to Vick's rap ties, it makes up for in personal reflections. For example, Vick shares exclusive heartwarming details about his relationship with his only son, Mitez, that can't be found elsewhere.
The book was published before Vick's career ended, so today's readers have perspective on what he was able to accomplish versus the ultimate goals that the quarterback says he wanted to achieve. But "Finally Free" asserts that those accolades don't define the person who now finds peace as a husband, father and man of God.