A good introduction to a watershed sports event that often reads like a book-length SI article—breezy, entertaining and not...

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SOMETHING IN THE AIR

THE STORY OF AMERICAN PASSION AND DEFIANCE IN THE 1968 MEXICO CITY OLYMPICS

Sports Illustrated senior writer Hoffer (Jackpot Nation: Rambling and Gambling Across Our Landscape of Luck, 2007, etc.) chronicles the racially charged 1968 Olympics.

Even if the event hadn’t taken place during one of the most turbulent and revolutionary decades of the 20th century, the Mexico City Summer Games would have stood out as unique among the Olympics. Never before had a third-world country hosted the event, and never before had they been held at such great altitude—more than 7,000 feet above sea level. Many athletes who excelled in ordinary climates were slowed by the effects of the altitude, but the unusual conditions gave some quirky competitors—such as high jumper Dick Fosbury, inventor of the Fosbury flop, or thug turned boxing champion George Foreman—an edge over their more conventional rivals. Of course, Mexico City will be remembered mainly for the iconic image of American runners Tommie Smith and John Carlos on the medals stand, heads lowered and black-gloved fists raised in the black-power salute. Hoffer lays out the circumstances that led to that brief explosion of overt politics, as well as the consequences, least of which was the runners’ purely symbolic banishment from Mexico City. The author introduces some of the characters behind the scenes, including International Olympic Committee Chairman Avery Brundage, whose sympathy for apartheid-era South Africa made him suspect to black athletes worldwide; Bud Winter, the track coach at San Jose State University whose eccentric training methods centered around Zen-like relaxation, but whose interest in his athletes’ well-being often ended at the stadium gate; and Harry Edwards, a runner at SJSU turned political activist and professor who tried to organize a boycott of the Olympics by black athletes. Hoffer’s choice to focus mostly on Americans simplifies the narrative considerably, though including stories unrelated to racial politics may have dulled the story’s overall impact.

A good introduction to a watershed sports event that often reads like a book-length SI article—breezy, entertaining and not too deep.

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-4165-8894-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2009

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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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