An award-winning sports biographer returns with an assessment of the medical risks to high school football players.
Near the end of the book, former Sports Illustrated assistant managing editor and senior writer Kennedy (Pete Rose: An American Dilemma, 2014, etc.), a clinical professor at NYU’s Tisch Institute of Sports Management, Media, and Business, declares what will be clear to readers throughout his text: “I came to writing this book without an agenda, but with high curiosity.” Indeed, he does attempt to present evidence from both sides. There are sections about the research on concussions and the enduring physical effects of football on players, about the numbers of deaths occurring during practices and in games, about hazing, and about the sometimes-dark behavior of some celebrated athletes, including NFL star Ray Rice, caught on video punching his future wife (Rice had once played for the New Rochelle high school team that Kennedy shadowed during the 2014 season). The author also attended the funeral service of a former player in a nearby community. Kennedy balances this grimness with the human stories of the New Rochelle players and, especially, legendary head coach Lou DiRienzo, whose voice we hear throughout the text. The author follows the team from summer practices through the New York state playoffs, and we also hear from parents, players, and numerous others. Although Kennedy is careful to explore the immediate world of the players, he says virtually nothing about the effects of football on the rest of the student body. What happens to an educational institution when you celebrate one student activity—a nonacademic one—so enthusiastically? Nor does he wonder how and why we tolerate such dire physical risks in football but really in no other high school activity.
Kennedy ably lays out the issues and raises the questions but offers no answers.