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A Feature Review of
Against Football: One Fan’s Reluctant Manifesto
Hardback: Melville House, 2014Buy now: [ [easyazon_link asin=”161219415X” locale=”US” new_window=”default” nofollow=”default” tag=”douloschristo-20″ add_to_cart=”default” cloaking=”default” localization=”default” popups=”default”]Amazon[/easyazon_link] ] [ [easyazon_link asin=”B00IW4DOWM” locale=”US” new_window=”default” nofollow=”default” tag=”douloschristo-20″ add_to_cart=”default” cloaking=”default” localization=”default” popups=”default”]Kindle[/easyazon_link] ]
Reviewed by Cody Stauffer
I love football. I have played it well. I have inflicted damage and my body has taken damage. I have devoted entire days to watching it live and listening to people talk about the glorious nuance of the game.
Lately, I have struggled with my love for the sport. It began when Dave Duerson, a Super Bowl champion safety, took his own life in 2011. He left a note requesting that his brain be donated to a brain bank doing research on chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a debilitating brain injury found in many boxers and now an increasing number of former NFL players. It became serious when I learned about Nathan Stiles, a 17-year-old football player who died shortly after his homecoming game due to a series of concussive and subconcussive blows to the head.
And yet here I am, three years later, still playing fantasy football, still getting excited about my beloved Dallas Cowboys and their fantastic 4-1 start to the season. But the nagging facts keep pestering my mind. So I jumped at the chance to review Steve Almond’s latest book, Against Football: One Fan’s Reluctant Lament.
Like me, Steve Almond is a huge fan of football. His story dates back to the 1970’s, when he played football with his brothers and the other kids in the neighborhood and fell in love with the Oakland Raiders. For Almond, like many sons, it was a bonding experience with his father. At some point, however, he came to the conclusion that there is just too much wrong with football. And so he wrote this manifesto.
The opening chapters of his book are devoted to history—first, to the audacious rise of football, and second, his own personal history as a fan. In his retelling of the NFL’s history, Almond goes beyond merely restating the watershed moments, but does a fantastic job of analyzing the nation’s collective psyche. “It was football,” Almond suggests, “that managed to pluck at the American tension between violence and self-control, brains and brawn, ferocity and grace, individual stardom and communal achievement, between painstaking preparation and the instant of primal release.” He also beautifully pulls back the curtains to reveal what went on behind the scenes that helped the NFL become the most popular sports league in the country.
In his personal history, Almond details his life-long love affair with the sport. As a child, it was the pure joy of pushing the limits of his body, learning what he was made of and the pain he could take. As he grew, it was seeing players like John Elway play for Stanford do exhilarating things that kept him hooked. When he journeyed into adulthood, he thought he would leave it behind as a part of growing up. But he could not. He found that football provided a common language and a community.
But he always knew something wasn’t quite right, and the ensuing chapters layout his case against the sport. As much as he loves the game, he found he was having increasing difficulty ignoring what it was doing to the brains and bodies of the athletes playing it. Almond points to the overwhelming research about CTE, and how players who have had no history at all with concussions are shown to have it. The brain was not made to withstand the incredible number of subconcussive hits—some which reach 20 G’s of pressure on the brain—that happen over the course of many games.
In the chapter focusing on brain injury, Almond also discusses the lengths that the NFL has gone to in order to cover up the research findings. It is a troubling conspiracy with deadly ramifications. He discusses specific players—from Junior Seau to Brett Favre and Tony Dorsett—suffering for years after their careers have ended.
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