Sunday, February 02, 2014

A short, painful, improbable career observed

If, like me, you are daft enough to waste your time reading books about football, Slow Getting Up: A Story of NFL Survival from the Bottom of the Pile by Nate Jackson is for you. Jackson was a wide receiver and tight end with Denver Broncos during the '00s -- never a star, but a serviceable member of the team. The book is his story of luck, pain, injury, occasional triumph and eventual loss in what today's star, Seahawk Richard Sherman, labels "a very barbaric sport."

Jackson can write. Here's a description the subtle moves a tight end might use while lined up before the snap to get open for a pass:

I rock back onto my feet lazily, trying to lull my man-to-man defender to sleep as I pass. Then I pivot and come back, equally lazily. The point is to make him think I'm doing a return motion and ending up in the same spot I started, so I can block a front-side run play. So don't look him in the eye. Make him think you aren't doing shit. Make him think you're blocking. Make him think you're bored. So much of offensive football is lying with your body, getting the defender to think you are going somewhere you aren't. Tell a story with your movements: a bloody lie! After my return motion, I turn on a dime and explode down the line of scrimmage back in the direction I was originally going. …

A successful football player is an actor.

The life of a professional football player is not like the life of other men. Jackson shows he really is a writer in that he both lived that life and observed himself within it while it lasted. He shares insights:

Professional athletes are attracted to strip clubs. This is well documented. But it's not because athletes are rich, horny animals who gain pleasure in objectifying women. It's because both strippers and professional athletes live on the fringes of a society that judges them for their profession, based solely on stereotypes. These stereotypes are nearly impenetrable. Both stripper and athlete stand alone behind them, and often feel solace with those who know what it's like to be there.

Lest we take him too seriously, he goes on to remind us that (most) men like boobs.

When the end comes -- when Jackson gets injured, is cut and finally realizes he'll never get back to the big time -- the author has words for this too. Leaving football is

… the prolonged, agonizing breakup of a lifelong relationship that cannot and will not ever end well.

Pro footballers are different but they certainly aren't just dumb jocks.

1 comment:

Hattie said...

It's a huge risk, though, because the whole thing is based on performance, and if that lags, they are out.

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