“Is There Life after Football? Surviving the NFL” by James A. Holstein, Richard S. Jones & George E. Koonce, Jr.
c.2015, New York University Press
$27.95 / higher in Canada
by TERRI SCHLICHENMEYER
Your favorite player was out for most of the season.
Last fall, he took a hit mid-pass and went down like a sack of rocks. They checked him over, took him off the field, and that was that. He hasn’t been back since.
Every now and then, someone mentions him and you wonder how he’s doing, whether he’ll ever play again. In the new book “Is There Life after Football?” by James A. Holstein, Richard S. Jones & George E. Koonce, Jr., you’ll get a glimpse of a possible future.
A helmet to the head, helmet to the chest, a cleat to the leg, and it’s big news: football is a brutal sport and we all know its potential career-ending effects. But what happens after the cheers go silent?
To understand, we have to understand the backstory, too.
Many little boys dream of playing football, of course, but the truth is that relatively few actually make it. The journey to the NFL starts with laser-focus on a dream, incessant practice, high school, then college. By that point, future NFLers have been convinced that they’re “special;” college perks underscore that notion.
“Dreaming of a lucrative NFL career is a relatively recent phenomenon,” say the authors. “In 1956, the minimum NFL salary was reported as $5,000,” but the kind of money that today’s young player gets is often more than he’s ever seen in his life. The NFL promotes financial responsibility, but a new hire often goes wild with new-found wealth; later, he might go broke. Being in the NFL, say the authors, is expensive.
When it’s over, that’s tough to take. Living without praise, paychecks, and the social structure within the NFL is a challenge – as is living with “a lifetime of hurt.” Almost twenty-five percent of all current former players claim game-related brain injuries. Surgery is “routine.” Some injuries are the result of a “suck it up” mentality: players are more likely to shake off an injury than to seek treatment for it, until it’s too late.
And those are just the physical ailments…
But the news isn’t all bad, and that’s the pleasant surprise inside “Is There Life after Football?” Authors Holstein, Jones, and Koonce, Jr. give their readers balance – and if you’re first inclination is to forego sympathy due to high salaries, you’ll get a dose of truth, too.
Using statistics you won’t see in the game, NFL history, and personal stories, this book offers a litany of things that should give fans pause: ruined lives for both players and families, ruined health, and financial ruin. But before we turn off the TV in dismay (just kidding!), we’re encouraged to lift our jaws off the floor with tales of success and of the men who’ve stepped off-field and into their own personal second half.
This is a book fans should read before the next game – or before they let their own son suit up. If you’ve ever wondered “What ever happened to….?” then “Is There Life after Football?” is a book you shouldn’t pass.
Terri Schlichenmeyer is based in Wisconsin.