A depressing but eye-opening and important book about the deteriorating heart of college athletics.

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CHAMPIONS WAY

FOOTBALL, FLORIDA, AND THE LOST SOUL OF COLLEGE SPORTS

Digging into the massively successful football program at Florida State University and finding the whole project nearly irredeemable.

“College football is deadly serious business, nowhere more so than Florida State,” writes award-winning New York Times investigative reporter McIntire (Journalism/New York Univ.) in this examination of the Seminoles dominant yet often academically and legally troubled football team. “How else do allegations of rape, attempted murder, academic fraud, domestic abuse, and other scandals…go unnoticed, uninvestigated, and unpunished?” As the author clearly shows, coaches, administrators, staff, boosters, and even local police have often looked the other way when it comes to rationalization or excuses for reprehensible player behavior—not to mention the demonization of anyone who might reveal the abuses or get in the way of the coverups set in motion to protect star athletes. According to the author, these myriad, multiplying sins seem to be the hallmarks of FSU athletics, especially the football program. In his deep dive into this cesspool, FSU comes to represent the situation throughout much of big-time college football, which brings in hundreds of millions of dollars at top schools such as FSU, Alabama, Ohio State, and elsewhere. Indeed, readers will get the impression that FSU is not even an outlier, which might be the scariest element of all. McIntire shows that FSU is not the only school pursuing the “champions way,” as his diversions to similar case studies in other athletic programs make clear. Naturally, the author ran into resistance nearly everywhere he turned, so he was unable to get the complete story of any of the many cases he investigated. While this may provide grist for detractors to try to pick apart his reportage, any honest reader will come away appalled—and rightfully so.

A depressing but eye-opening and important book about the deteriorating heart of college athletics.

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-393-29261-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: June 14, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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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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