Sunday, October 12, 2014

Review of "Against Football"

Just in time for the new season, this book came out that asked the tough questions about this game that many others would not.   In the wake of the domestic abuse and child abuse scandals that rocked professional football and my own personal two-week boycott where I did not watch a NFL game nor any related highlights, I thought I would read this book to see where this author came down on these and other issues.  It was an excellent read.   Here is my review of "Against Football"

“Against Football: One Fan’s Reluctant Manifesto” by Steve Almond

Football, (American), Professional, college, high school

August 26, 2014

194 pages

5 of 5 stars (Outstanding)

There is no question that football is the most popular sport in the United States. Whether it is professional football with record television ratings for its championship game, college football with all the pomp and circumstance or high school football in which entire towns shut down on Friday nights for home games, Americans love their football.

However, Steve Almond, who is one of these fans who follows the game passionately, has written a thought provoking book in which he questions many aspects of the sport and what it says about society as a whole.  He addresses many issues from both the aspect of the game itself and the effects that the game has on other aspects of life.

This latter statement comes from the topics that Almond addresses and asks hard questions about what football does to address or ignore the problem. He writes about the bullying of Miami Dolphins lineman Jonathan Martin – but goes beyond calling out Richie Incognito.  He addresses racism and the thoughts of Martin’s fellow African-American lineman who also taunted Martin by saying he wasn’t “black enough.”  There are the calls that Martin wasn’t strong enough to confront his distracters. With bullying being a hot topic today, this was a very interesting commentary.

Of course, the topic of concussions is addressed in the book.  While Almond does not offer a lot of new or different aspects toward this issue, I felt that he used some powerful examples to show the dangers players face from multiple concussions or the condition that has been brought forward because of players suffering from it, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.  How a player suffered from concussions at a small college in Maryland during practice because his coach was driving him to hit harder by leading with his head is one of the most powerful pieces I have read on this topic.

As was all of Almond’s comments on topics like corporate welfare when NFL owners obtain taxpayer-funded stadiums, designation as a non-profit organization (yes, seriously!) and a very shrewd observation at the annual NFL combine.  When some of the players who are being brought out for work outs to the combine, they huddle up, place their hands together in the circle and broke it with a yell “On three…one, two, three, Get Money.”  That is an excellent illustration of what the NFL has become – these players put themselves through what some people consider either a slave auction or a meat market for one thing – to get money.

College and high school football always is addressed in the book, the former for many of its own tales of corruption and greed.  The most shameful has to do with the investigation or lack thereof, into an allegation of sexual assault in 2013 by Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston.  There was compelling evidence plus a statement from the victim to warrant a full fledged investigation but it never was completed. It makes the reader again wonder just how much importance football has over a school. I thought this particular incident was also a good tie-in with the current scrutiny colleges are facing over their internal policies concerning sexual assaults as a whole.

These are just a few examples of the hard questions Almond raises. He does talk frequently of his own football fandom, and he does state in the book that he is not out to criticize or demonize fans who enjoy the game. He is simply asking these hard questions and I believe this is a challenge to all fans to ask themselves if they are aware of all these matters and if they are, then how do they feel about being a part of this?  It certainly made me question why I follow this sport. That is what I believe the message is to be taken from this book, and Almond writes a very powerful manifesto in order to be that messenger.

Did I skim?

Pace of the book: 
Excellent – this is a very fast read, even when the questions that Almond asks make the reader stop and think. 

Do I recommend? 
Yes – this should be required reading for anyone who enjoys the game of football at any level.  This book will make fans, coaches, administrators and players at least stop and think about what the game in its current state does to everyone.

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