North Dallas Forty it ain’t, but it all makes for a pleasing read for those who like their gridiron gladiators on the...

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WHERE DREAMS DIE HARD

A SMALL AMERICAN TOWN AND ITS SIX-MAN FOOTBALL TEAM

They love their football in Texas—so much so that they find ways to play it without the regulation dozen-minus-one players on the field.

The little North Texas town of Penelope, writes true-crime veteran Stowers, has only a couple of hundred residents and only a couple of businesses, a granary and the post office. With so small a population, the high school could not field a regulation team and so, a few years ago, adopted the “strange and fast-paced game called six-man football,” which, nationwide, is played by around 225 to 250 schools. That’s a big drop from the 30,000 schools that played six-man football in the 1950s, but by Stowers’s account Penelope is a ’50s kind of place—almost entirely white, not particularly well off but not particularly poor, Republican and without much to do. Though the team that Stowers chronicles over the 2004 season wins logarithmically fewer games than it loses and plays mostly against folks who are also, it seems, playing to stave off the dread fear of having nothing to do on Friday night, the Penelope High School Wolverines do a mighty fine job with what they’ve got. Moreover, they give the town a purpose, so that almost everyone in Penelope shows up for both the home and away games. There’s precious little glory here; as Stowers notes, only a handful of players have gone on to play college or professional football, the great exception being former Washington Redskins head coach Jack Pardee. Still, as Stowers remarks, most of the kids play their hearts out once they understand that such is the Texas way, learning valuable life lessons and, well, keeping themselves occupied.

North Dallas Forty it ain’t, but it all makes for a pleasing read for those who like their gridiron gladiators on the guileless and underdoggish side.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-306-81404-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Da Capo

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2005

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One of the NBA’s 50 greatest players scores another basket—a deeply personal one.

BACK FROM THE DEAD

A basketball legend reflects on his life in the game and a life lived in the “nightmare of endlessly repetitive and constant pain, agony, and guilt.”

Walton (Nothing but Net, 1994, etc.) begins this memoir on the floor—literally: “I have been living on the floor for most of the last two and a half years, unable to move.” In 2008, he suffered a catastrophic spinal collapse. “My spine will no longer hold me,” he writes. Thirty-seven orthopedic injuries, stemming from the fact that he had malformed feet, led to an endless string of stress fractures. As he notes, Walton is “the most injured athlete in the history of sports.” Over the years, he had ground his lower extremities “down to dust.” Walton’s memoir is two interwoven stories. The first is about his lifelong love of basketball, the second, his lifelong battle with injuries and pain. He had his first operation when he was 14, for a knee hurt in a basketball game. As he chronicles his distinguished career in the game, from high school to college to the NBA, he punctuates that story with a parallel one that chronicles at each juncture the injuries he suffered and overcame until he could no longer play, eventually turning to a successful broadcasting career (which helped his stuttering problem). Thanks to successful experimental spinal fusion surgery, he’s now pain-free. And then there’s the music he loves, especially the Grateful Dead’s; it accompanies both stories like a soundtrack playing off in the distance. Walton tends to get long-winded at times, but that won’t be news to anyone who watches his broadcasts, and those who have been afflicted with lifelong injuries will find the book uplifting and inspirational. Basketball fans will relish Walton’s acumen and insights into the game as well as his stories about players, coaches (especially John Wooden), and games, all told in Walton’s fervent, witty style.

One of the NBA’s 50 greatest players scores another basket—a deeply personal one.

Pub Date: March 8, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4767-1686-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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

CONCUSSION

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. 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2015

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