Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Not For Long by Robert W. Turner II

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Why I Read It: Reviewed for Amazon Vine. Like many, I've become very concerned in recent years with the lack of player safety and security in the NFL, and whether or not I should commit time and any money to the sport.

Summary: The life of an NFL athlete from first dreams to shattered dreams, as seen through the eyes of a sociologist who also happens to be a former player.

My Thoughts: Ugh. It's hard to say more than that.

The system is so messed up. The people making money at the top are looking for more and are doing so at the expense of the athletes who play the game. Those athletes sacrifice their bodies for the sport, with the average career expectancy being just over three years. Most of the players who play in the NFL don't last long enough to qualify for benefits, and many have no clue what to do when they involuntarily exit from the game.

In reality, by the time that they make a team, these athletes should be thinking about what is going to happen to them after their time is done, but they can't. They become part of a totalizing institution - like a prison or a branch of the military - that controls their every move. Their focus is supposed to be on the next workout, the next practice, the next game, not on the next phase of life. Their livelihood, week to week, depends on it. Contracts are not guaranteed, and only the best of the best qualify for signing bonuses and other such guaranteed perks.

The owners want as much of the pie as they can get, and the players want their share. Prof football is a $9 billion industry heading for $25 billion within a few years. But there is the third player: college football. Itself a multi-million dollar industry, college ball is a sham at best; many of the athletes are steered through paths of least academic resistance to bring money into the schools. Many of them end up without real educations and without career options beyond football. The best possible alternative would be the development of a minor league system, but would USC or Alabama ever want to watch the best athletes going straight from high school into a professional football developmental system that bypasses their Saturday afternoon experience?

And then there's race, and economic disparity that helps determine who even gets the chance to live a portion of the dream. It's all a nasty puzzle.

With each Sunday that passes in the fall, another career comes to an end, and another one starts. A young boy watches the game and gets inspired and takes the first steps toward an NFL "career." He joins the millions that winnow down to the thousands to the hundreds. An injury occurs on an NFL field that ends the dream for a young man who has no idea what to do next. He loses his job, his livelihood and in many cases his identity.

It feels like this book is just the beginning of a very needed, very hard look at the game.

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