Disclaimer: I am a rabid football fan, both college (go Gamecocks!) and the NFL (go Lions!), and I likely always will be. However, as anyone who has even a passing interest in the sport now acknowledges, there can be serious physical consequences to this relentlessly violent game—just ask Bernie Kosar, Jim McMahon, George Rogers and other players who may be suffering the debilitating effects of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (not to mention Junior Seau, who committed suicide due to severe depression likely caused by CTE).
In Against Football, Steve Almond addresses these issues and more, admitting his love for the sport while pointing out the many flaws that plague the NFL, from massive head trauma to the corruption of ownership to the continued prevalence of homophobia within both locker rooms and fan bases (stay tuned for the reaction to the Dallas Cowboys' recent decision to sign Michael Sam, the first openly gay player in the NFL, to their practice squad after he was released from the St. Louis Rams).
In what we called a “provocative, thoughtful examination of an ‘astonishingly brutal’ sport,” Almond takes to task those who would bury the game’s most dangerous elements under inflated notions of manhood, competition and team spirit, as well as (legitimate) arguments about the sport’s undeniable popularity.
Though he doesn’t neglect the negative aspects of the game, Mark Edmundson puts the focus elsewhere in his new book, Why Football Matters, which we called a “memoir/treatise about those personal virtues he traces back to his years playing high school football.” Recounting his fond memories of his involvement in football, Edmundson provides a wealth of instructive anecdotes about the game and the lessons it has taught him.
As we wind down the sports vacuum that is the summer and approach another football season, both Almond and Edmundson are worth considering. Neither book ultimately dimmed my excitement about the game, but they both provided useful new angles from which to view the sport.
Eric Liebetrau is the managing and nonfiction editor at Kirkus Reviews.