LONG BOMB

HOW THE XFL BECAME TV’S BIGGEST FIASCO

Well-told tale of ego and excess run amok in big-time sports.

From journalist Forrest, a compact account of the ill-fated 2001 launch of a made-for-TV alternative football league.

When historians look back on the “anything’s possible” hubris of American culture at the turn of the millennium, one hard-to-miss boondoggle will be the “extreme” football league that promised to take professional football to new levels of “reality” and gore. The XFL was created by World Wrestling Federation king Vince McMahon, who believed he could bring the spectacular hokum of his popular “WWF Smackdown” to mainstream sports. Drawing its players and coaches from the ranks of NFL-wannabes, the XFL offered a new set of playing rules meant to increase the game’s immediacy and on-field violence. Microphones were put in places they’d never been before; there were bouncy cheerleaders and even some strippers; and former pro wrestler Jesse “The Body” Ventura, governor of Minnesota, was a commentator. The hype leading up to the league’s debut was huge, but TV viewership fell precipitously even before the first halftime, as McMahon, NBC’s sports guru Dick Ebersol, and other execs listened to the collective sound of the nation tuning in to check out the fledging league and almost instantly clicking away. The problem, explains Forrest, was that McMahon built the WWF’s success on violent “reality” that was in fact carefully rehearsed and designed for maximum impact. The XFL, by contrast, was in the end just a football game and could never be outlandish enough to live up to its own billing. Forrest writes snappily and brings some memorable XFL characters to the page, including Ventura, NFL veteran Dick Butkus, and several of the many who seized on the XFL as a last-chance: Outlaws coach Jim Criner, running back Rod Smart, and quarterback Ryan Clement.

Well-told tale of ego and excess run amok in big-time sports.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2002

ISBN: 0-609-60992-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2002

WHY WE SWIM

An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.

A study of swimming as sport, survival method, basis for community, and route to physical and mental well-being.

For Bay Area writer Tsui (American Chinatown: A People's History of Five Neighborhoods, 2009), swimming is in her blood. As she recounts, her parents met in a Hong Kong swimming pool, and she often visited the beach as a child and competed on a swim team in high school. Midway through the engaging narrative, the author explains how she rejoined the team at age 40, just as her 6-year-old was signing up for the first time. Chronicling her interviews with scientists and swimmers alike, Tsui notes the many health benefits of swimming, some of which are mental. Swimmers often achieve the “flow” state and get their best ideas while in the water. Her travels took her from the California coast, where she dove for abalone and swam from Alcatraz back to San Francisco, to Tokyo, where she heard about the “samurai swimming” martial arts tradition. In Iceland, she met Guðlaugur Friðþórsson, a local celebrity who, in 1984, survived six hours in a winter sea after his fishing vessel capsized, earning him the nickname “the human seal.” Although humans are generally adapted to life on land, the author discovered that some have extra advantages in the water. The Bajau people of Indonesia, for instance, can do 10-minute free dives while hunting because their spleens are 50% larger than average. For most, though, it’s simply a matter of practice. Tsui discussed swimming with Dara Torres, who became the oldest Olympic swimmer at age 41, and swam with Kim Chambers, one of the few people to complete the daunting Oceans Seven marathon swim challenge. Drawing on personal experience, history, biology, and social science, the author conveys the appeal of “an unflinching giving-over to an element” and makes a convincing case for broader access to swimming education (372,000 people still drown annually).

An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-61620-786-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Jan. 4, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

CONCUSSION

Effectively sobering. Suffice it to say that Pop Warner parents will want to armor their kids from head to toe upon reading...

A maddening, well-constructed tale of medical discovery and corporate coverup, set in morgues, laboratories, courtrooms, and football fields.

Nigeria-born Bennet Omalu is perhaps an unlikely hero, a medical doctor board-certified in four areas of pathology, “anatomic, clinical, forensic, and neuropathology,” and a well-rounded specialist in death. When his boss, celebrity examiner Cyril Wecht (“in the autopsy business, Wecht was a rock star”), got into trouble for various specimens of publicity-hound overreach, Omalu was there to offer patient, stoical support. The student did not surpass the teacher in flashiness, but Omalu was a rock star all his own in studying the brain to determine a cause of death. Laskas’ (Creative Writing/Univ. of Pittsburgh; Hidden America, 2012, etc.) main topic is the horrific injuries wrought to the brains and bodies of football players on the field. Omalu’s study of the unfortunate brain of Pittsburgh Steeler Mike Webster, who died in 2002 at 50 of a supposed heart attack, brought new attention to the trauma of concussion. Laskas trades in sportwriter-ese, all staccato delivery full of tough guyisms and sports clichés: “He had played for fifteen seasons, a warrior’s warrior; he played in more games—two hundred twenty—than any other player in Steelers history. Undersized, tough, a big, burly white guy—a Pittsburgh kind of guy—the heart of the best team in history.” A little of that goes a long way, but Laskas, a Pittsburgher who first wrote of Omalu and his studies in a story in GQ, does sturdy work in keeping up with a grim story that the NFL most definitely did not want to see aired—not in Omalu’s professional publications in medical journals, nor, reportedly, on the big screen in the Will Smith vehicle based on this book.

Effectively sobering. Suffice it to say that Pop Warner parents will want to armor their kids from head to toe upon reading it.

Pub Date: Nov. 24, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8757-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 14, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2015

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