Americans love scandal, especially juicy scandal involving their politicians and celebrities. But it will be interesting to see how they take to the scandal involving their football, both in the NFL and the college ranks. And Scandal Central is what the NFL and its NCAA-sponsored farm system, college football, has become.
Since this year’s Super Bowl, at least 37 NFL players have been arrested, led by Aaron Hernandez, the New England Patriot’s All-Pro tight-end who has been charged with murder. It seems that there are almost daily reports of DUIs, illegal gun possessions, or outright criminal behavior involving pro and college players—not to mention the sordid pedophilic legacy of Jerry Sandusky at Penn State.
Now publishing houses have begun to pursue the various scandals with books that track how football has gone from being America’s true pastime to being an incubator for crime, greed, and a hazard to the health of its players.
The biggest threat to the very survival of the NFL may be the players, both active and retired, who suffer from an inordinate amount of concussions. Years of playing football—high school, college, and pro—and taking multiple hits to the head have made concussions the number one concern to the league and its players. For years, players were told to “shake it off” and get back into the game. Now—under the threat of a lawsuit—the league goes to extraordinary lengths to guard players who are concussed. How rampant has this been over the years? One just needs to read the obituaries of former NFL players and the words “dementia” and “Alzheimer’s” will be found in a great number of them.
For years the NFL was in denial of the concussion epidemic, but just recently it reached a $765 million settlement with former players. The settlement was considered a victory for the NFL because if it went to court, estimates were that it might cost the league between two and three billion dollars.
Coincidentally, front and center this fall is League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru (Crown Archetype). Fainaru-Wada is the coauthor of Game of Shadows, which blew the top off the steroids scandal, and Fainaru is a Pulitzer Prize –winning journalist. League of Denial is hush-hush and has been embargoed—publisher-speak for we may or may not have something important here, but we’ll keep you in suspense until you find out.
Crown Archetype was closed-lipped, but their catalogue promised “Two award-winning and bestselling authors will finally reveal the truth behind the relationship between brain injury and football.”
The publication of the book coincides with the release of the PBS Frontline documentary also called League of Denial that will feature the two authors. Crown plans a 100,000-copy first printing, plus there will be heavy promotion, including Good Morning America, NPR’s Morning Edition, an ABC Radio satellite tour, and two simultaneous first serials to ESPN The Magazine and Sports Illustrated. There will also be a Random House audio compact disc available.
The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian (Doubleday) is an inside look at how big-time NCAA college football really works. “The depth of the reporting makes this book the most comprehensive portrait of college football ever written,” claims its editor, Bill Thomas. “They also are ferocious investigative reporters, who reveal in powerful detail how much boosters will offer recruits, how the NCAA’s investigative process crushes young men—teenagers, really—while letting the powerful money-generating institutions get off lightly, how football ‘hostesses’ are used as lures, and on and on.” According to Thomas, the authors offer wise solutions: “Number one is proper monitoring. And they do believe that players should be paid, which will go some way to address the gross unfairness of the NCAA and the conferences making billions off the bodies of young men.” Doubleday plans a massive publicity and promotion plan including a 75,000-copy first printing; publicity appearances on CBS This Morning, NPR’s On Point, ESPN’s Olbermann, and NPR’s Only a Game.
Another book that looks at college football, but finds hope amid the chaos, is Fourth and Long by John Bacon (Simon & Schuster). “What makes Fourth and Long utterly unique,” says Thomas LeBien, v-p, senior editor, is that “it comes at college football from a completely different direction, namely passion, the passion of amateur student athletes and the millions of fans who prefer amateur play to the professionalism of the NFL. John Bacon is as wide-eyed and critical of college football as anyone studying the game, but he rightly grasps that scandals stand atop greed, which is generated from the money being made off of our collective passion.” S&S is already in its third printing and has 22,000-copies in print. Publicity is planned at the four schools featured in the book (Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, and Northwestern) as well national media, multiple alumni club events and online features.
November 22 is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and Sports Publishing/Skyhorse looks back at that momentous year for the NFL in Clouds Over the Goalpost by Lew Freedman. The big scandal of 1963 was the banning of future Hall of Famers Paul Hornung, halfback of the Green Bay Packers, and Alex Karras, defensive tackle of the Detroit Lions, for gambling. “Rozelle had just taken over as commissioner of the NFL and was working diligently to build up the ‘face of the NFL,’ ” says editor Jason Katzman. “With the AFL continuing to grow, the last thing that the NFL needed was a scandal. So when it came out that Karras and Hornung had been gambling, even though they were fan favorites, the NFL painted them as villains. Rozelle knew he had to make the right decision, so he decided to suspend both players for the entire season. Hornung admitted his mistake and understood the suspension, even stating, ‘I did wrong…I should be penalized.’ However, Karras was furious and held a grudge against Rozelle for the rest of his life.”
The other decision Rozelle made that year is still controversial—two days after the assassination of JFK, before the President was even buried, he decided that the NFL should play as scheduled, even though the rival AFL canceled its games. “When looking back,” says Katzman, “it’s easy to say that the NFL made a horrible decision. Rozelle even stated that playing after the assassination was his biggest regret as commissioner.” Sports Publishing plans a 15,000-copy first printing and publicity appearances in major NFL cities.
After all the criticism and speculation in books written by people who have never played a college or NFL down, it’s refreshing to read through Slow Getting Up: A Story of NFL Survival from the Bottom of the Pile by former Denver Bronco receiver Nate Jackson (HarperCollins). Jackson was an undrafted free agent who went the less glamorous route to get to the NFL. His litany of injuries will shake the reader and he pulls no punches on what the NFL thinks of its players: “I am meat, traded to the highest bidder: the only bidder. Fine. I’ll be your meat. I’ll be whatever you want me to be. Just give me a helmet.” He’s also make you laugh along the way in this well-written memoir by an NFL journeyman.
Among all the doom and gloom about the NFL and NCAA there is a glimmer of hope in the form of The War on Football: Saving America’s Game by Daniel J. Flynn (Regnery). One wonders if The War on Football has anything to do with another favorite conservative theme, the annual “War on Christmas.” Regnery’s executive editor Harry Crocker III quickly set PW straight with a succinct “None.”
Crocker then went on to say that “Dan Flynn is passionate about defending a game he loves. There is a real threat to football. Columnists and writers are calling for its abolition. Dan’s main point is that football’s benefits far outweigh its risks. Amazingly, hardly anyone else is saying that.” Reg-nery plans a 25,000-copy first printing.
There’s not much debate about biography in the world of sports publishing—it still leads the pack in popularity. Why the continued success of this genre?
“A memoir,” says a succinct and right-on David Rosenthal, president and publisher, Blue Rider Press/Penguin, “closes the circle of intimacy with the fan.”
There’s that word again—embargoed! This time it refers to Undisputed Truth by Mike Tyson and Larry Sloman (November). Tyson, the former heavyweight boxing champ and convicted rapist, is apparently going to let it all hang out in this autobiography, but why the embargo? Says Rosenthal: “Because there is news value in the book, and to have little items from the book appear haphazardly and piecemeal does a disservice to a very fine memoir.” Rosenthal goes on to say that “Mike Tyson is more than boxing champion—he has been a huge cultural figure in America for nearly three decades. The book feels very real, very raw, in terms of its anecdotes and language. It is also, as is Mike, really very funny at times.” Blue Rider plans a 100,000-copy first printing backed by a major media campaign.
A different kind of biography—the bio of a radio station—is Imus, Mike and the Mad Dog & Doris from Rego Park: The Groundbreaking History of WFAN by Tim Sullivan (Triumph). WFAN is the prototype for the hundred-plus sports radio stations all over the country. From its humble beginnings in the mid-1980s (it’s biggest sponsor was a cemetery) to its recent mega-million deal with the Yankees, the story of “the Fan” is filled with national personalities such as Don Imus, Mike Francesca and Christopher Russo. Triumph plans a 15,000-copy first printing and a media campaign heavily centered on the New York area.
There have been few athletes who revolutionized their sport the way Bobby Orr changed hockey. Orr could not only skate, shoot and score, but he did it from the blue line, creating a higher scoring game. He tells his story for the first time in Orr: My Story (Putnam). “Bobby Orr is a god,” says Neil Nyren, senior v-p, publisher, editor-in-chief of Putnam. “And he has never done an autobiography or memoir, he has never authorized a biography. This is it. It’s a big deal.” Putnam plans an 85,000-copy first printing for the U.S. and another 160,000-copy first printing for Canada, with major media centered around the Boston and New York media markets.
A contemporary of Orr, on the basketball side, was Julius Erving and he has also decided to tell his story in Dr. J: The Autobiography (November). “Julius Erving is an American icon,” says David Hirshey, senior v-p, executive editor at HarperCollins, “who has never told his unvarnished story before. It’s the most honest sports autobiography since [Andre Agassi’s] Open. Dr. J is told in a voice that’s been channeled by a writer of bona fide literary pedigree, the novelist and journalist Karl Taro Greenfeld.” Harper plans a 100,000-copy first printing and author appearances in New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
The baseball version of Methuselah would have to be Jamie Moyer, who pitched until he was 49 and had the most wins, losses, and strikeouts of any active major league pitcher at the time of his retirement. He now brings his story, Just Tell Me I Can’t: How Jamie Moyer Defied the Radar Gun and Defeated Time (with Larry Platt; Grand Central). A 50,000-copy first printing and a six-city publicity tour are planned.
One of the more quiet niches of sports publishing is the inspirational book. There can be several angles—religion, business, and, sometimes, pure inspirational altruism. Since there are so many facets to these popular titles it no wonder opinions differ as to what makes them special.”
“Through inspirational, revealing, emotional memoirs,” says Jennifer Schuster, senior editor, New American Library, “athletes connect with fans on a whole new level, sharing the behind-the-scenes story of their greatest triumphs and sometimes most poignant defeats.”
“Sport is a huge part of our society,” says Paul K. Muckley, senior editor-nonfiction, Barbour Books, “and people of faith enjoy athletics as much as anyone else. When they see that these high-profile players are living out their Christianity in the public eye, it’s an encouragement to them in their own faith walk.”
“Readers look for motivation and inspiration from a variety of sources,” says George Witte, editor-in-chief, St. Martin’s, “and sports books—especially those by coaches, as well as by athletes who have overcome adversity in their lives—offer lessons on persistence, focus, dealing with change, and balancing work with life priorities.”
“Inspirational books are in high demand,” says Katie Powell, a publicist at Thomas Nelson, “due to the rocky state of character in the athletic world today. There has to be a conversation about character; what’s really important on a fundamental level.”
It’s hard to get much more inspiring than former Canadian football and NFL standout O.J. Brigance. After his career ended he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease) and told he didn’t have much time left. Yet he survived and continues his amazing story as part of the front-office team of the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens. Brigance now tells his poignant story in Strength of a Champion (NAL). “O.J. Brigance offers his unique life lessons,” says NAL’s Jennifer Schuster, “through the prism of the 2012 Raven’s Super Bowl run. Brigance’s story is heartbreaking, but it’s also filled with resilience, determination, and the kind of inner strength that will inspire readers.” Brigance will be appearing on CBS Sunday Morning on October 20.
There are few college basketball coaches who can match the resume of Louisville’s Rick Pitino, and The One-Day Contract (St. Martin’s) is Pitino’s new business/motivational book, coming on the heels of leading the Louisville Cardinals to the NCAA Basketball Championship last March. “It shows readers,” says St. Martin’s Witte, “how Pitino used the concept of the one-day contract—a daily practice of focus, planning, adding value by attention to detail, and urgency—to guide Louisville to the title.” St. Martin’s plans a 100,000-copy first printing.
November 1 marks the 20th anniversary of Dr. George Sheehan’s death and the publication of The Essential Sheehan: A Lifetime of Running Wisdom from the Legendary Dr. George Sheehan (Rodale). “Twenty years after George Sheehan’s passing,” says Mark Weinstein, executive editor, Rodale Books, “his message is as relevant and as needed as ever, if not more so. Sadly, the vast majority of his work is now out of print, so the idea behind the release of The Essential Sheehan (and the re-release of his classic, Running and Being) is to introduce his writings to a whole new generation of readers and runners” There will be an excerpt of The Essential Sheehan in the December issue of Runner’s World and there will be promotions at both the Chicago and New York marathons.
With all the turmoil in the NFL and NCAA, one book that might have an assuaging effect on the gridiron warrior is Guts, Grace & Glory: A Football Devotional by Jim Grassi (Thomas Nelson). “It’s relevant to NFL players,” says Nelson’s Katie Powell, “because they feel the intense glare of the spotlight on a daily basis and encounter many people who can easily steer them down a career-destroying path. Knowing where they stand in their faith and finding inspiration from others in the same position are paramount to making the right choices.” Nelson plans major promotion on SBNation.com and extensive advertising and promotion within the Christian media.
Playing with Purpose: Inside the Lives and Faith of the NFL’s Most Intriguing Personalities by Mike Yorkey (Barbour) chronicles the faith-based lives of famous players, including, Tim Tebow, Colin Kaepernick, and Drew Brees. “The NFL is king of American spectator sports,” says Paul K. Muckley, senior editor, nonfiction, Barbour Books, “and we believe a lot of Christian fans would enjoy reading about players who share their faith.” Barbour plans a 15,000-copy first printing.
The Football Season
Even with all the problems confronting the NFL and college football, books on football remain extremely popular and plentiful this holiday season:
RG3: The Promise by Dave Sheinin (Blue Rider Press). This is an in-depth look at the first season of Washington Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III by Washington Post reporter Sheinin.
No Plan B: Peyton Manning’s Comeback with the Denver Broncos by Mark Kiszla (Taylor). Chronicling Manning’s return from serious neck surgery to lead the Denver Broncos into the playoffs.
Their Life’s Work: The Brotherhood of the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers, Then and Now by Gary M. Pomerantz (Simon & Schuster). Four Super Bowl Championships. Twelve Hall of Famers. Over 200 interviews.
Collision Low Crossers: A Year Inside the Turbulent World of NFL Football by Nicholas Dawidoff (Little Brown). Dawidoff, who wrote the wonderful Moe Berg biography The Catcher Was a Spy, spent a year inside the New York Jets locker room for this intensive look at professional football.
Monsters: The 1985 Chicago Bears and the Wild Heart of Football by Rich Cohen (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). Jim McMahon at QB, Mike Singletary at linebacker, with Mike Ditka and Buddy Ryan on the sidelines, the story of the championship Bears.
Breaking the Line: The Season in Black College Football That Transformed the Sport and Changed the Course of Civil Rights by Samuel G. Freedman (Simon & Schuster). The book follows the 1967 season for Grambling and Florida A&M and their road to the Orange Bowl Classic for the black college championship in a game that’s remembered to this day.
The Kids Got It Right by Jim Dent (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin’s). Texas high school football in the 1960s set against the backdrop of the Civil Right Movement as a group of young players from the Lone Star State are thrust into the spotlight of integration
Unbeatable by Jerry Barca (St. Martin’s). The 25th anniversary of the 1988 undefeated Lou Holtz–led Notre Dame football team—the last Fighting Irish squad to win the national title—is recalled.
The King of Sports by Gregg Easterbrook (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin’s). The author of the hugely popular ESPN.com column “Tuesday Morning Quarterback” pens a probing view of the unique popularity of football on American society.
More Life Stories
Clemente: The True Legacy of an Undying Hero by the Clemente Family (Celebra/Penguin). This beautiful tribute to Clemente by his family is filled with color and black-and-white photos as it tells the story of the baseball Hall-of-Famer and philanthropist, who went on to become the Pittsburgh Pirates biggest star.
Phil Jackson: Lord of the Rings by Peter Richmond (Blue Rider Press). This is an unauthorized biography of the legendary Zenmeister coach of the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers.
Qaddafi’s Point Guard: The Incredible Story of a Professional Basketball Player Trapped in Libya’s in Libya’s Civil War by Alex Owumi with Daniel Paisner (Rodale). The story of playing basketball for one of the world’s great terrorists—and surviving to tell about it.
Assisted: An Autobiography by John Stockton with Kerry L. Pickett (Shadow Mountain). The NBA’s all-time steals leader tells how he played for 19 seasons for the Utah Jazz.
Driven: From Homeless to Hero, My Journey On and Off Lambeau Field by Donald Driver (Shadow Mountain). The Green Bay Packer wide receiver and Dancing with the Stars champion looks back on his life and career.
Becoming Mr. October by Reggie Jackson and Kevin Bacon (Doubleday, $26.95). The world of Reginald Martinez Jackson is on full display, from his dealings with George Steinbrenner and his confrontations with Billy Martin to his put-downs of Yankee captain Thurman Munson.