A worthy offering for fans of the modern, increasingly embattled game.

QUARTERBACK

INSIDE THE MOST IMPORTANT POSITION IN THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE

A QB–centric look at how football works, on and off the field.

Quarterbacks are vital to any gridiron contest. You know that, writes sports journalist and commentator Feinstein (The First Major: The Inside Story of the 2016 Ryder Cup, 2017, etc.), “because there are two people the media must listen to after a game: the head coach and the quarterback.” Quarterbacks usually take their time giving the media their piece of the story, but in the author’s opening vignette, Baltimore Ravens QB Joe Flacco is quick to get to the microphones following a charged division game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in October 2017. Asked to explain the Ravens’ loss, Flacco said, “I sucked. We sucked as an offense, and I’m the quarterback, so I’m responsible. It’s pretty simple.” Well, yes and no: Some of the QBs Feinstein mentions in this leisurely stroll down the field are a little less quick to fall on their swords, while others are exemplary in many ways. One of the author’s chief subjects, for instance, is Doug Williams, a rarity in his day, the first African-American quarterback to bring home the Super Bowl; if racism figured in the 1970s, it certainly hasn’t gone away in the decades since. Neither has the tendency of some clubs to treat players as cogs in the big moneymaking machine, as with Ryan Fitzpatrick, asked to take a pay cut following a career-best throwing season for the Buffalo Bills, then axed for failures not of his own making—save that he was the captain on the field. “When things go well, everyone loves you,” he tells Feinstein. “When they don’t, people fall out of love in a hurry." The author ably gets to the heart of the game, and if little of what he writes will come as news to discerning fans, there are some fine set pieces featuring battle-weary players and devious front-office types.

A worthy offering for fans of the modern, increasingly embattled game.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-385-54303-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Oct. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2018

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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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