Head-slaps and high-fives for the sport that dominates America’s popular imagination by Atlantic Monthly contributor and ESPN.com “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.