SHAKE DOWN THE THUNDER

THE CREATION OF NOTRE DAME FOOTBALL

Sperber (English and American Studies/Indiana University; College Sports Inc., 1990) does in this exceptional, exhaustive history of Notre Dame football what he does best: dash myths and penetrate to systemic corruption and hypocrisy, all the while maintaining an implicit love for collegiate athletics. Using a cache of previously unexamined correspondence and athletic department files dated 1909-34, Sperber starts with the school's origins in the 1840's and continues through 1941. He attributes Notre Dame's football success in part to the independence it gained through its repeated rejection by the Western Conference and by the school's ``unique culture of athleticism.'' Included are fascinating anecdotes about the scheduling and playing of the great Michigan and Army games (the latter of which, contrary to legend, came about because the cadets had become ``pariahs'' by flouting standard eligibility rules); the ``Fighting Irish'' nickname, the fight song, the cheers, and the mascot; the making of the film ``Knute Rockne—All-American''; the Catholic school's battles with the KKK and other ``anti-papists''; and the corruption of journalists, officials, and coaches like ``Pop'' Warner, who frequently pocketed gate receipts. Sperber addresses what he calls Notre Dame's ``historic dilemma...the tension between its athletic prominence and its academic aspiration.'' Most telling is his look at the Knute Rockne myth. Sperber finds Rockne to be a man so concerned with ``the decline of American masculinity'' that he had no qualms about publicly humiliating those he saw as less than ``he-men.'' As the record and the testimony show, Rockne wasn't universally mourned when he died in that 1931 plane crash. His greatness as a coach, however, and as a football innovator, are given their just due here, though also placed in a realistic historical perspective. Quite an achievement: a monumental work of scholarship in both sports and social history. (Eight pages of photographs—not seen).

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1993

ISBN: 0-8050-1874-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1993

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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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