THE DEATH OF AN AMERICAN GAME: The Crisis in Football by John Underwood


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A solid, if hardly startling, review of the excessive violence, the commercialism, and the galloping Lombardo-ism of football at all levels. Based on a series of articles in Sports Illustrated, the book depicts a sport in deep trouble; if football doesn't shape up, Underwood suggests, it could become too violent, expensive, and boring to compete with cleaner, faster games like soccer. On the pro level, such vicious techniques as the hayhook, the clothesline, clubbing, ear-holing, spearing, and butt-blocking are not only practiced, but taught. The problem, basically, is that they're legal (and, unfortunately, not all fully explained here). The helmet, moreover, has turned into a lethal weapon responsible for 29 percent of serious brain and spinal injuries. The face mask, instead of saving teeth, has become a handle to crack vertebrae. Artificial playing surfaces, supposed to prevent injuries, have been found to be more dangerous than grass in 17 out of 17 categories studied. Meanwhile the NFL, lulled by huge profits, does nothing--Peter Rozelle is a ""publicity agent."" Though Underwood sees the college game as less pernicious, it is threatened too. ""Obscene"" recruiting practices are the ""rot at the center."" Costs have soared besides, forcing a reliance on TV revenues (and 47 percent of the teams still lose money). In high schools and Little Leagues, the values and techniques of the pros dominate; Little League coaches, like the kids, imitate what they see on TV. Underwood sees the rash of lawsuits against coaches, schools, equipment manufacturers, etc., as a potential corrective. He also proposes comprehensive changes in the rules governing play and recruiting--including a return to the one-platoon system. Despite some repetitiousness and some excess outrage, the best all-round appraisal of the current scene.

Pub Date: Oct. 16th, 1979
Publisher: Little, Brown