You might have noticed, Michael Vick has a book out, an as-told-to “autobiography.” It chronicles his fall and rise, a tale already pretty well documented. In the long run, the book might be remembered mostly as what Vick was promoting when he used the unfortunate, lightning-rod term “dynasty” to describe his vision for the Eagles over the next several years.
But there is an interesting, tangled story behind “Finally Free,” a project of a North Carolina-based religious-themed publisher, The Core Media Group. It began when Vick was about a year into his return to football from prison, looking at a 2010 Eagles season he expected to spend as the backup to Kevin Kolb. The original story was one of a humbled star, brought down from public adoration and immense wealth to bankruptcy and mopup work. Then the story changed again, when Vick became a starter and a star with the Eagles. Some of the same excerpts you’re seeing now were released more than a year ago, with the book then scheduled to appear July 27, 2011. In the year since, Vick has struggled through a disappointing season, but he has continued to rehabilitate his image. He is on schedule to exit bankruptcy by 2014, has a contract with a $35.5 million guarantee, a new clothing line, and a new commerical for Cure auto insurance.
Along the way, one of the two original coauthors of “Finally Free,” Charles Chandler, exited the project, after doing publicity interviews last year. Chandler covered the Carolina Panthers for The Charlotte Observer for 17 years, but left newspapering two years ago to devote more time to what he saw as his religious calling. Chandler, who says he’s currently establishing a ministry in Charlotte, told the Daily News this week that his name isn’t on the book anymore because he was “no longer comfortable being part of the project.” He said he did not wish to comment further.
But Chandler talked last year about how, in the early stages of the interviews he did for the book, he was attracted by Vick’s humility, his embrace of a simple, godly life in the wake of the 18-month prison sentence he served in connection with dogfighting. Now Vick is leading the life of an NFL millionaire again.
Here is an excerpt from a piece I wrote about the book in June 2011, after interviewing Chandler:
“The hours Chandler spent with Vick, often on Tuesdays (the players' day off) during the Eagles' 2010 season, convinced Chandler that the self-absorbed star he'd encountered periodically during Vick’s Atlanta Falcons career was not the man whose story he was trying to tell several years later.
“ ‘I think he's very different now,’ Chandler said yesterday. ‘There's a brightness about him. It's still Michael Dwayne Vick he's still the person by that name, but I'm a big believer that people can change.’
“Chandler was wary when he was approached for the project, he said, but the involvement of former Bucs and Colts coach Tony Dungy in shepherding Vick’s return to the NFL allayed many of his fears.
“ ‘I don't think Tony Dungy just jumps in there and puts his name on just anybody,’ Chandler said.”
Now it’s more than a year later. The other original coauthor, Brett Honeycutt, said this week that he retains a good relationship with Chandler, that there were “disagreements on Charles’ end” about the book. Asked if he thought Vick had changed since they started the project two years ago, Honeycutt said: “Everybody’s going to change, depending on their circumstances.”
Honeycutt said the publication delay had to do with “trying to get everything right where Mike was good with it – him wanting to add more, elaborate on things ... Getting Mike right with it.”
Honeycutt said he does not doubt Vick’s sincerity, does not doubt that he is a different person from the man who tortured and killed dogs. In the book, he said, “you see him for more than jut a soundbite,” see that Vick’s commitment to help the disadvantaged is “more than giving out turkeys at Thanksgiving.” He referenced the appearances Vick continues to make on behalf of the Humane Society.
Honeycutt said that when Vick “talks about his family, he shows you a lot” about the kind of person he is. Honeycutt also praised Kijafa Frink, the longtime fiancee Vick recently married, for the “unconditional love” she showed, sticking with Vick throughout his prison ordeal.
Honeycutt said he hopes people who read the book see Vick as a person, not as an abstraction. But he also said he doubts the book will change the minds of people who have not been forgiving of Vick’s past. He said he is impressed by how Vick “doesn’t seem bitter” toward people who still hold him in contempt and disapprove of the second chance he got at stardom.
The story behind “Finally Free” might show us that difficult subjects such as redemption and transformation are open to varying interpretations, that final conclusions on a person’s life are elusive, while that person is still alive. Vick has done a lot of good since he exited prison, but the issue of his sincerity will probably never be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.
Eagles Hall Adds 2
The Eagles announced Friday that they will induct five-time Pro Bowl cornerback Troy Vincent and longtime ticket manager Leo Carlin into their Hall of Fame Nov. 26, during halftime of their Monday Night Football game against Carolina.
“Troy Vincent was one of the best defensive players ever to put on an Eagles uniform,” chairman Jeffrey Lurie said in a statement released by the team. Lurie lauded Vincent’s leadership, and said: “He has taken that same passion and intensity into the next phase of his life as Vice President of Player Engagement for the NFL, where he continues to help former and current players succeed off the field.”
Lurie referenced Carlin’s “incredible 53-year career with the Eagles,” and said Carlin has been “the face of our business to literally generations of fans. He also has been a pioneering business executive who has earned the trust and respect of his fellow employees for five decades.”