Ladies and gentlemen, the NFL, America’s “beautiful shit-show of a league.”
A football fan and chief national correspondent of the New York Times Magazine, Leibovich (Citizens of the Green Room: Profiles in Courage and Self-Delusion, 2014, etc.) spent four years immersed in the NFL’s “cultural hunger games,” interviewing owners, coaches, and players to trace how football has morphed from “being one of the most unifying institutions in America to the country’s most polarizing sports brand.” Still superpopular and profitable, the game’s present “moral and cultural moment” includes ball-tampering, child and domestic abuse, brain-disease deaths, and knee-taking during the national anthem. While exploring all of these, the author’s chief focus is on the owners and players, who, like the politicians he covers daily, are all part of “the same sitcom.” The 32 owners, typified by Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys (“rich, audacious, distracted, shameless”), are variously described as “aging show poodles,” “superrich postmenopausal dudes,” and “tycoons of enlarged ego, delusion, and prostate.” Jets owner Woody Johnson is “an overgrown third-grader who collects toy trains and rotten quarterbacks.” Leibovich gives lengthy treatment to Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and his suspension for allegedly using underinflated footballs in the 2015 AFC championship game. Wealthy, with a supermodel wife, Brady touts sustained peak performance with his TB12 business partner and bodywork guru Alex Guerrero and famously golfs with NFL owner–wannabe Donald Trump, whose anti-kneeling tweets have their own moments. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, much-harassed by fans, dodges the author’s questions and holes out watching league games on three TV sets in a man cave. Leibovich covers Super Bowl parties, the NFL draft, training camps, Hall of Fame inductions, and more. The “conservative, Republican, and nationalistic” NFL has mostly white fans (83 percent) and mostly black players (nearly 70 percent), he writes. However, the implications of that sociology—and the deep uncertainties facing the league—are lost amid the rollicking entertainment.
Must-read gossip for NFL junkies.