He bankrolled a huge dogfighting operation and even built kennels behind a home he owned in Smithfield, Va. The image of the kennels behind the house was broadcast on TV many times in media reports about Vick’s dogfighting case.
Vick’s description of getting caught, pleading guilty and eventually being sentenced to prison is like a narrative of what not to do. He writes that even with damning evidence pouring in daily, he continued to lie to those around him, including Falcons owner Arthur Blank, who Vick says treated him like a son, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
“Looking back, I can see that my propensity for trying to lie my way out of trouble only made my consequences more severe,” Vick writes. “I got used to not being honest in a lot of situations. … Hey, if it worked last time, it will work again.”
Vick’s chapter about his time in prison is particularly dark. In it, he writes about the first time he hears the metal door shut behind him and the reality sets in that he’s locked up. He also talks about the dangerous and unsanitary conditions there – such as huge rats and roaches — getting into a fistfight while playing pickup basketball and mopping floors for pennies an hour.
He also relates the pain he felt when he found out his beloved grandmother had died. He was not allowed to go to the funeral.
However, Vicks says he wasn’t a troublemaker in prison and tried to do his time with his head up. He says he made friends who taught him the rules of the yard and games like chess and dominoes.
Vick says he also had lots of time to read and to reflect on his misdeeds and how he was going to try to avoid the same situations when he got out. Most importantly, Vick says he found God again and began reading the Bible and sleeping with it under his pillow, like he did in high school.
“Scriptures from my childhood, like Psalm 23 and Jeremiah 29:11, began to bring me comfort again,” Vick writes. “It felt like I was starting my life all over again, only in a different place.”
Vick says he received around 27,000 letters while in prison and was visited by friends and several former teammates. But two visitors stood out: Super Bowl-winning coach Tony Dungy and Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States. Both men would play huge roles in getting Vick back into the public eye in a positive light and back into the NFL.
In the pantheon of books about athletes and redemption, Finally Free is a painfully honest, behind-the-scenes look into the life of a superstar gone bad and then good again. Mostly, Vick comes off as a good guy who made bad choices but has learned his lesson.
Prison, bankruptcy and public humiliation will do that to you. But Vick has to be commended for admitting his mistakes and doing everything he can to shed his baggage.
It’s hard not to root for him – even if you don’t like the Philadelphia Eagles, where he’s the starting quarterback these days.
Near the end of the book, Vick writes: “I want to be remembered as a guy who never gave up, whether with my family, out on the football field, in a prison cell, or playing one-on-one basketball with someone in the neighborhood. To sum it all up, I would say one word: resilient. I stand firm in God, push through and never gave up – even in my darkest moments.”
About the Book Review Author
Lee Ivory is the former executive editor and publisher of USA TODAY Sports Weekly. He’s also a media/communications consultant and a journalism professor at Virginia Commonwealth University.