By Lee Ivory, Black Books and Reviews.com.
The world of sports – like life – is full of cautionary tales. The basketball player who turns to drugs and ruins a promising career. The boxer who dies broke and broken. And the football player who spends his last days doing menial jobs for pats on the back.
Michael Vick, Finally Free: An Autobiography (Worthy Publishing) is in itself a cautionary tale of huge proportions, albeit one that, so far, is shaping into a happy ending. Make no mistake, the book – written with Brett Honeycutt and Stephen Copeland of Sports Spectrum magazine — is full of lessons large and small about the perils of choosing shady friends and shrugging off advice from people who have your best interests at heart. But in the end, Vick doesn’t blame anyone but himself for his downfall from the top of the heap in the NFL. And he vows to do better.
By now, we all know that Vick, 32, served 23 months in federal prison for his role in a dogfighting enterprise. The book goes into fairly deep detail about how he got into dogfighting and how involved he was in the illicit and barbaric enterprise.
Vick eloquently writes about his poor upbringing in the Ridley Circle housing project – Unit 667 – in a crime-ridden area of Newport News, Va., or as it is sometimes referred, Newport Nam. Violence, he writes, was rampant and often sudden. He even lost one of his childhood friends to a random shooting as the boy walked down the street.
But Vick was insulated from the violence of the streets of Newport News by two things – his immediate family, especially his grandmother, Caletha Vick, and football.
An athletic prodigy, Vick first showed brilliance playing football for the Boys and Girls Club, where for the first time he heard the roar of an approving crowd. After throwing a touchdown pass on his first play, “… People started grabbing me. I was so happy and excited. I loved that feeling. I chased that feeling,” he said.
Even though Vick dodged most of what he calls “the neighborhood nonsense” by embracing sports, he admits he was no angel. He talks about stealing seafood from a local restaurant to sell later to his friends and walking or riding his bike far from the confines of his neighborhood without the knowledge of his parents.
On the subject of his parents, Vick describes his mother, Brenda, as the “rock” of his family. He goes on to say that his friends thought his family was special because both parents lived together in the house.
Aside from his father, Vick had a couple of strong male figures in his life who tried to keep him on the straight and narrow – James “Poo” Johnson, who ran the Boys and Girls Club, and Tommy Reamon, a local football coach who encouraged the young talent and even paid for him to go to football camps. To this day, both men are still in Vick’s life.