Who says the best sportswrit­ing in­volves base­ball?

The Tribune (SLO) (Sunday) - - Living - BY ROBERT BIRNBAUM Spe­cial To The Wash­ing­ton Post

Foot­ball is a vi­o­lent but com­pli­cated sport. That ought to make it an ideal sub­ject for en­gag­ing lit­er­a­ture, but alas, un­til re­cently this has not been the case. Save for a few clas­sics - “A Fan’s Notes,” by Fred­er­ick Ex­ley, “Out of Their League,” by Dave Meg­gyesy and “Col­li­sion Low Crossers: In­side the Tur­bu­lent World of NFL Foot­ball,” by Ni­cholas Daw­id­off - books about foot­ball have typ­i­cally proved Ge­orge Plimp­ton cor­rect: the smaller the ball, the bet­ter the book.

But this sea­son brings us an un­usu­ally large - and un­usu­ally good - se­lec­tion of books on foot­ball. Pre­dictably, there are quite a few on the Pa­tri­ots and the Na­tional Foot­ball League cham­pion Philadel­phia Ea­gles, but there are also a few on NFL his­tory and on line­men, the most un­der­ap­pre­ci­ated po­si­tion in foot­ball. Here are a few of the best - or at least most in­ter­est­ing - ti­tles of the lot.

“BELICHICK: THE MAK­ING OF THE GREAT­EST FOOT­BALL COACH OF ALL TIME”

ESPN re­porter Ian O’Con­nor, au­thor of an in­fa­mous 2000 ar­ti­cle head­lined “Pa­tri­ots will re­gret hir­ing Belichick,” has a as­sem­bled a com­pen­dium on five-time Su­per Bowl win­ning head coach that cov­ers all the high- and low­lights, in­clud­ing De­flate­gate; the Jimmy Garop­polo trade; Belichick’s in­creas­ingly ten­u­ous re­la­tion­ship with Tom Brady; the treat­ment of Brady’s per­sonal trainer, Alex Guer­rero; Belichick’s con­tro­ver­sial de­ci­sion to bench Su­per Bowl hero Mal­colm But­ler and the coach’s con­nec­tion to Don­ald Trump. Belichick did not speak with O’Con­nor and tried to dis­cour­age oth­ers quoted in the book from do­ing the same. Still, the book, which cites a book Belichick did co­op­er­ate with - David Hal­ber­stam’s ex­cel­lent “The Ed­u­ca­tion of a Coach” - is a fas­ci­nat­ing look in­side the team so many of us love to hate.

“BIG GAME: THE NFL IN DAN­GER­OUS TIMES”

Mark Lei­bovich, the chief na­tional cor­re­spon­dent of the New York Times mag­a­zine, of­fers a sweep­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the big money ma­chine known as the NFL. Lei­bovich is an un­re­pen­tant Pa­tri­ots fan, and much of this book is seen through the lens of that char­ac­ter flaw. De­spite that, his mor­dant sense of hu­mor, re­por­to­rial skill and a keen eye for the re­veal­ing de­tail comes to­gether as an en­gag­ing por­trait of the play­ers as well as the chal­lenges the game faces. The best parts of Lei­bovich’s ac­count are his deal­ings with what he refers to as the Mem­ber­ship, the NFL own­ers - Robert Kraft, Jerry Jones, Arthur Blank, Woody John­son, Daniel Sny­der and Terry Peg­ula, as well as NFL Com­mis­sioner Roger Good­ell.

“FOOT­BALL FOR A BUCK: THE CRAZY RISE AND CRAZIER DEMISE OF THE USFL”

The short-lived United States Foot­ball League (1983-85) which was a le­git­i­mate chal­lenge to the supremacy of the NFL, might ex­ist only as a foot­note in a busi­ness school case study were it not for the role of Don­ald Trump, owner of the New Jersey Gen­er­als. In­stead it serves as an amus­ing and en­ter­tain­ing tale of ego and ex­cess whose fail­ure has been laid at the feet of our cur­rent pres­i­dent, who had hoped to use the league as a launch­pad to his ill-fated pur­suit of an NFL fran­chise. The USFL in­cluded as many as 18 teams and fielded such su­per­stars as Her­schel Walker, Steve Young, Reg­gie White, Jim Kelly and Doug Flu­tie. Vet­eran sportswriter Jeff Pearl­man - whose fas­ci­na­tion with the USFL be­gan in high school with a 40-page term pa­per on its down­fall - drew on 400 in­ter­views to cre­ate this wacky, fas­ci­nat­ing nar­ra­tive.

“THE HER­ITAGE: BLACK ATH­LETES, A DI­VIDED AMER­ICA, AND THE POL­I­TICS OF PA­TRI­O­TISM”

This is not strictly a foot­ball book but a larger ex­plo­ration of the strug­gle and protest of black ath­letes in Amer­ica. ESPN writer Howard Bryant traces a through line from the dis­si­dence of Paul Robe­son, Jackie Robin­son, Muham­mad Ali, base­ball player Curt Flood, Olympians Tom­mie Smith and John Car­los, Arthur Ashe, and Craig Hodges to the ac­tivism of Colin Kaeper­nick, Eric Reid, Le­Bron James, Michael Ben­nett and Carmelo An­thony - a group he refers to as the Her­itage. It’s an im­por­tant story that also deals with the post-9/11 mil­i­ta­riza­tion of sports and post Fer­gu­son black ac­tivist ath­letes.

“JIM BROWN: LAST MAN STAND­ING”

David Zirin, sports edi­tor for the Na­tion and a colum­nist for the Pro­gres­sive, takes on what may stand as the de­fin­i­tive bi­og­ra­phy of foot­ball leg­end Jim Brown (ar­guably, many con­sider him the great­est Amer­i­can foot­ball player ever.) Brown re­tired af­ter nine sea­sons in 1966 to de­vote him­self to civil rights ac­tivism and an act­ing ca­reer. Zirin fo­cuses on Brown’s post NFL life and his pol­i­tics: The NFL’s one­time lead­ing rusher sup­ported both Richard Nixon and Don­ald Trump and has said he would not sign Colin Kaeper­nick.

“NOT FOR LONG: THE LIFE AND CA­REER OF THE NFL ATH­LETE”

The un­funny joke among NFL play­ers is that NFL stands for “not for long,” re­fer­ring to the short av­er­age du­ra­tion (three years) of an NFL ca­reer. Robert Turner, for­mer player and post ca­reer Ph.D., fo­cuses on the tran­si­tion to life af­ter the NFL and the man­i­fold dif­fi­cul­ties of ad­just­ment. He coun­ters the stereo­types that most play­ers are wealthy and set for life. The harsh and sad re­al­ity is the “sports in­dus­trial com­plex” does noth­ing for the ma­jor­ity of 20-some­things who have not pre­pared for life af­ter foot­ball.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.