Fans of the pigskin will savor this vigorous account of pro football’s evolution.

NFL CENTURY

THE ONE-HUNDRED-YEAR RISE OF AMERICA'S GREATEST SPORTS LEAGUE

How the NFL gridiron mayhem came to be, courtesy of far-thinking entrepreneurs a century ago.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame is located in Canton, Ohio, for good reason: The city, whose team had had the good luck to hire sports legend Jim Thorpe in 1915, was one of a handful of Ohio organizations that banded together to codify not just the game of football, but also principles for governing player salaries, free agency, and other matters. Even so, writes Hall of Fame executive director Horrigan (co-editor: The Pro Football Hall of Fame 50th Anniversary Book, 2012, etc.) in this lively account, Cleveland has claim to primacy, for it was the Cleveland organization that took Ohio League rules into the world and began to recruit teams outside the state. By 1920, writes the author, Buffalo and Rochester in New York and Hammond in Indiana had signed on even as rules were evolving on college eligibility. Horrigan’s opening episodes have a quaintness to them, populated by teams such as the Columbus Panhandles and the Chicago Tigers, most of which had the modern penchant for skirting the rules in order to pay and receive big money, with managers and player representatives like “Cash and Carry” Pyle doing end runs around those eligibility requirements in order to lock down players like Red Grange. Some early innovations, such as indoor football, with rules stipulating that “a forward pass could be thrown only from five or more yards behind the line of scrimmage” and the like, didn’t quite catch on, but others stuck. Horrigan turns in a pleasingly anecdotal account with many highlights, such as the turmoil surrounding the decadelong uprising by the upstart American Football League, a period echoed by the arrival of big money in the modern era, as exemplified by the New England Patriots: “When [Robert] Kraft bought the team, just about everything, including its troublesome stadium, was considered second-rate.”

Fans of the pigskin will savor this vigorous account of pro football’s evolution.

Pub Date: Aug. 27, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-63565-359-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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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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