A founder of ESPN opens a window into his dysfunctional family.
Early on in this unsettling memoir, Rasmussen makes a candid statement about his oldest brother: “Bill entered this world as the perfect baby that became the perfect son, who could do no wrong. And so it would be for the rest of our parents’ lives.” The book covers a lot of ground, from Rasmussen’s boyhood baseball exploits and his serving with the Air Force in Greenland to helping get the ESPN sports network off and running. But its emotional core is his account of a toxic family to which, even from early childhood, he “felt that I didn't belong.” Rasmussen’s parents were forced into marriage after his mother got pregnant. After a daughter was stillborn, his brother Bill was born about 18 months later. He was the “savior” of the marriage, “the anointed one,” while Don, another brother Bob, and sister Vivien “were literally excess baggage.” Don is the “problem child” who spends his “whole life trying to be a part of and accepted as a part of my family.” According to Rasmussen, it was his father and Bill who teamed up to dash his dreams of playing professional baseball in an effort to “maintain [Bill’s] dominance.” The fledgling ESPN gives the family an opportunity to go into business together, but the venture dissolves in acrimony, with Don’s lawyer telling him, “I have never met anyone as nasty as Bill” and that he should try not to be too disappointed about never having a positive relationship with his family. Rasmussen concludes that “no amount of denial can cover the lifelong meanness…that I submitted to.” Rasmussen’s message is diluted by a jumbled narrative structure that hops confusingly between time periods when a linear approach would have been more effective. But the book paints a haunting picture of family dysfunction, and the author’s journey brings him to the hopeful realization that he “survived both [Bill] and Dad and their attempts to keep me down.”
Despite a muddled narrative, a haunting portrait of discord emerges.