Whatta Comeback: Dishing on Michael Vick

Michael Vick's Ghostwriters Open Up
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When Michael Vick got out from behind bars (and back onto the field) after a nineteen-month prison term, he did what any celebrity felon would do—he wrote a book. Ghostwriting Finally Free, Vick’s just-released memoir, were Charles Chandler and Brett Honeycutt, both Meck County residents and former sports reporters for the Observer. Here’s what they had to say about the experience.

Tell us about the book.

Chandler: I would always pose the notion that in American sports history, we can’t think of an athlete who is as accomplished and reached the heights that Michael had, to fall all the way to the bottom. To being broke, his reputation ruined, and in jail, and then to get out, and get it all back. That’s never happened in American sports history. So it makes for compelling reading: how did this happen?

Honeycutt: One interesting thing that I found while we were writing the book was reported in Sports Illustrated. Vick owes lots of money to a lot of people, but he agreed to pay $927,000 to rehabilitate the fifty-one dogs on the property that were still alive. Despite PETA and the Humane Society saying the dogs should be euthanized. Some say it was a PR move, but he didn’t have to do that. I just think, why is that not out there. Forty-seven of the fifty-one dogs were saved. That stayed in my head.

How do you think readers will respond to Vick’s story?

Chandler: No matter where you land on whether or not you like him, it’s a compelling story. It’s the details of how he got into it [dog fighting], and the experience of getting in trouble. I don’t think people will see it as a PR move. If they read it, they’ll find it genuine.

Honeycutt: I’ve already seen a Facebook page about boycotting the book. They’re talking about going in bookstores and putting a red “X” on the covers so stores have to throw the book away.

What’s the most interesting thing you learned about Vick?

Chandler: How intentional he is about being a dad. I just had no idea he was that committed. I think this experience has caused him to be that way. He grew up with a father around, but his father wasn’t a big part of his life at all. I think Michael’s trying to be to his kids what he didn’t have himself. I’m a dad myself, so that really struck me.

Honeycutt: For me, it was how down-to-earth he is. We hold these people up so high, and we think they’ll treat the average Joe differently. He talked about his kids, and we were chitchatting about everyday things … as reporters, you stick a recorder in front of their mouths, you have questions, they give you answers, and you go and write the story. But this was different.

Were you hesitant to take on the project at first?

Chandler: I certainly gave it some thought. But I was mostly interested in telling the story. I really respect Tony Dungy [former NFL coach and athlete mentor], and knew he wouldn’t give Vick his endorsement if he didn’t believe he was making significant changes in his life.

Honeycutt: Dungy doesn’t speak for anyone unless he’s convinced, and he seemed convinced that Michael had taken steps toward changing. … To me, that was really it. People in the sports world admire Tony Dungy.

How did the cowriting process actually happen?

Chandler: It worked seamlessly. There was a great deal of transcription. Hours and hours of transcription. We had some conference calls where we’d both interview him, and other one-on-one calls. We went to Philly during the football season, but he’s a busy guy in season. He really only had Tuesdays free.

Honeycutt: The neat thing about cowriting is that if you’re just working alone, the decisions about what gets included are just your opinion. Your editor won’t know what got left out and what didn’t. But with two people overseeing the process, it was really a strength. There’d be sections where Charles would say, “I’m glad you got that.” Charles and I know each other well and have common interests, so it’s easy to work with him.

So the NFL made the right choice taking him back?

Chandler: Last year, he had the president of the U.S. complimenting the team for giving him a job, which says a lot. Obama did that, and he took a lot of criticism for it. It says a great deal about what Michael’s done in the NFL.

Honeycutt: We give presidents of the United States second chances. If no one got second chances, the U.S. would be full of prisons. So if the NFL didn’t give him a second chance, I would hope someone would.

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