ESPN NFL reporter Trotter debuts with a very sympathetic account of the life of NFL Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau (1969-2012).
The author has few negative things to say in this highly conventional biography—even the linebacker’s arrest for domestic abuse in 2010 receives a walking-on-eggshells treatment. The author begins by observing, “we don’t really know our athletic heroes,” and proceeds to show us many of Seau’s hidden facets, although a number of key individuals (his partying buddies) declined to be interviewed. Trotter gives us details about Seau’s Samoan heritage and then takes us through his school days (with a 3.6 academic average in high school, he could not manage a decent score on the SAT), his athletic dominance at all levels, his ferocious work ethic, and his determination to play with pain. We also learn about his family life—womanizing, partying, and gambling eventually caused numerous estrangements—and his financial collapse after he retired. Trotter shows us a player honored by his high school, college, and pro teammates, coaches, and fans. He was deeply respected not just for his athletic gifts, but also for his sense of humor and his leadership. The author doesn’t give too many detailed accounts of games—just key plays and moments. He also pauses occasionally to expatiate on head injuries, alcoholism, drug use, and, of course, evanescent fame. Unfortunately, the author falls victim too often to cliché (“Fear was not in his vocabulary”; “he won her heart with his kindness”; “His star could not have been brighter”). Deeply invested in Seau’s sad story, Trotter also overstates the effect of his suicide in 2012, observing that sadness swept the land.
Although the text benefits from the author’s deep knowledge of the game—and from many important interviews—excessive sentiment corrodes.