Football is almost over for the year. For almost everyone, their favorite team is done and now we just have the offseason events to look forward to for the first half of 2016. But if you just can't get enough of the NFL, there is a very entertaining new book out. NFL Confidential: True Confessions from the Gutter of Football is purported to have been written by a real player about his experiences, focusing on the 2014 season. It is at times disturbing and bitter, but also hilarious and moving. And it rings very, very true.
The author uses the pseudonym Johnny Anonymous, which is itself gives a hint of his completely disrespectful attitude to almost everything about the NFL and the team he played for. He states that he disguised almost everything in the book to protect his identity and keep from being kicked out of the game. But while there is no way to be sure which team he is writing about, part of the fun in reading this is to try and figure out which team he is talking about.
Given that a driving factor in the narrative is that the team fails to make the playoffs, it does eliminate the Dallas Cowboys as the team he is writing about. However, if you are a Cowboys fan, you might notice that there is one team that seems to fit if you assume he changed many of the details, as he claims. This conclusion on my part was probably influenced by my own prejudice, but it sure does sound an awful lot like a team that calls Philadelphia home.
Whichever team is involved, this seems to be a remarkably honest account of just how miserable being in the league can be. The author focuses on the uncertainty of being a backup player, but also recounts the problems faced by all involved, including entrenched stars, coaches, and family members. He also discusses his perception of two league-wide controversies, the effect of Michael Sam becoming the first openly gay player (however briefly) and the furor over the Ray Rice domestic violence case. One thing that is totally absent is any hint of political correctness, and some of the things the author said will offend some. But one of the best things about his viewpoint is that, for the most part, he does not care. That extends to almost everything else about the NFL. Fans, owners, general managers, and his own teammates are treated with sometimes brutal frankness.
At the start, he states his plan to become the best backup in the league in order to cash his weekly five-figure paychecks while avoiding most of the damage that is incurred. The author is an undersized offensive lineman, which puts him in the most risk of cumulative head trauma of any position (along with his counterparts across the line of scrimmage on the defensive line). He wants to spend his career watching the games from the safety of the sidelines.
Best laid plans, of course, have a tendency to go awry, and a couple of injuries to his teammates thrusts him unexpectedly into having to start. And this leads to the great trap that he falls into: Despite everything he hates about the league and having to compete to maintain his roster spot, he loves to play the game. By the end of the book, you gain some understanding of why men put themselves through the damage to both body and psyche that pro football demands to be a part of the sport.
Much of what he relates is not always new, but his perspective as someone who comes across as one of the more intelligent players in the league is often refreshing. He communicates the internal conflict that comes from benefiting from players he knows and sometimes like being injured and losing their own jobs. He strips the illusion of glamour from being an NFL player, revealing how the majority of players live a life more like that of a traveling salesmen, but with far less control over their own lives. And despite his disdain for many of the coaches and executives, he also gains a deal of empathy for how much they also sacrifice to be a part of the game.
One thing that is surprising is how much he likes and even envies the specialists, who are at much less risk of the mind-stealing trauma that threatens the rest of the team. But the real heart of the book is how he struggles to maintain his own individuality and especially his extremely irreverent spirit, And he admits that he is not immune to the lure of acclaim when he has success as a starter, and the bitter disappointment when he is relegated back to backup status when the original starter returns to the field, even though it is clear that the established player is far from ready to play well.
There is a risk of disillusionment in reading this book, but you are far more likely to get a real appreciation for the humanity and flaws of the men who sacrifice their bodies weekly for your entertainment. It is not a long book, but it is full of stories you have never heard related in quite this way.