Trenchant analysis, wrenching case studies, Utopian recommendations.




Head-slaps and high-fives for the sport that dominates America’s popular imagination by Atlantic Monthly contributor and “Tuesday Morning Quarterback” writer Easterbrook (The Leading Indicators, 2012, etc.).

The author crafts a football sandwich, the spicy meat of his complaints lying between two soft-bread sections celebrating Virginia Tech, whose successful program and coach (Frank Beamer) he presents as exemplars. In the beginning, Easterbrook describes Beamer’s background, temperament and approach; in the end, he chronicles Tech’s 2012 Sugar Bowl overtime loss to Michigan. His patent intent is to show that success need not lie upon a foul foundation of cheating and other sorts of corruption, financial and otherwise. The “meat” chapters are the most engaging and include some details, examples and statistics that will alarm even cynics about the sport. Easterbrook probes such issues as the NFL’s tax-free status (a not-for-profit!), the failures of many major college programs to help their players graduate (especially black players), the recent research about concussions (at all levels of the game), the role of football on the college campus, the sham of “showcases” for high school athletes, the infinitesimal chance a boy will make it to the NFL, the “cult” of football in school and culture, and the effects of the game on those players who don’t make it (the vast majority). Some individual case studies are alarming and profoundly depressing, but—make no mistake—Easterbrook loves the game, and most of the recommendations he discusses (and lists at the end) are quixotic. Financial disclosures? Six-year scholarships for college players? Rankings to include academic records of players? Financial bonuses for coaches whose players do well academically? Not gonna happen. Moreover, the author does not aggressively examine, though he does mention, the proposition that the game’s popularity is principally based on violence—would anyone watch the NFL if it were flag football?

Trenchant analysis, wrenching case studies, Utopian recommendations.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-250-01171-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Aug. 15, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2013

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


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...


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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