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The King of Sports: Football's Impact on America Hardcover – September 24, 2013
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College and professional football generates billions of dollars annually in revenue. Easterbrook, the author of ESPN’s popular column Tuesday Morning Quarterback, looks beyond the dollar signs, examining many of the sport’s darker issues. Among them: the public dollars used to finance the stadiums used by NFL teams when, simultaneously, the same local governments reduce money allocated to education, public infrastructure, and aid to the needy. The book opens with a look at Virginia Tech football, where the graduation rates are high and players learn through the positive reinforcement of head coach Frank Beamer and his staff. Easterbrook then moves to the rest of college football, which mostly exploits the players for the enrichment of the university, the athletic administrators, and the coaching staffs. Another chapter looks at the long-term financial health of NFL players; one organization reports 70 percent of NFL players declare bankruptcy within 10 years of retirement. Despite the wealth of negative content here, Easterbrook still professes to enjoy the game and offers a series of reforms for football at all levels. A valuable analysis that will significantly alter the ways that readers view football. --Wes Lukowsky
“The King of Sports is a fantastic book” ―Chuck Todd
“Read this book with a highlighter in hand. It is the most significant book you will ever read on football.” ―Brian Kenny, former anchor, SportsCenter
“I've long admired Gregg Easterbrook's writing. Now I admire his conscience. The King of Sports is an important book for football America.” ―Peter King, senior writer, Sports Illustrated
“The King of Sports provides a vivid, authoritative, insightful and above all provocative account of the role of football in American life.” ―Michael Mandelbaum, author of The Meaning of Sports
“The King of Sports is a must-read for all of us who love the game of football.” ―Aaron Schatz, editor-in-chief, Football Outsiders.com
“[Easterbrook] delivers hits more devastating than the most ferocious, head-hunting linebacker…. [he] does it again, again and again in The King of Sports, a startling and disturbing new book that takes aim at hypocrisy in the National Football League and big money college football.” ―Buffalo News
“Provocative and thoughtful.” ―Tampa Bay Times
“College and professional football generates billions of dollars annually in revenue. Easterbrook, the author of ESPN's popular column Tuesday Morning Quarterback, looks beyond the dollar signs, examining many of the sport's darker issues… A valuable analysis that will significantly alter the ways that readers view football.” ―Booklist
“Easterbrook presents muchto consider and discuss in his diagnosis and treatment plan, which should be of interest to a broad audience.” ―Library Journal, starred review
“No matter how you feel about football's issues, The King of Sports offers plenty to think about. It's a blitz of sports and cultural perspective well worth any fan's time.” ―Creative Loafing Charlotte
“One of the Web's surprise cult hits.” ―The New York Times on Tuesday Morning Quarterback
“Hilarious entertainment . . . Tuesday Morning Quarterback has pretty much locked up the genre of humorous football poetry.” ―National Public Radio, "All Things Considered"
“Trenchant analysis, wrenching case studies, Utopian recommendations.” ―Kirkus Reviews on Tuesday Morning Quarterback
Top customer reviews
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I love football. I played D1 Power 5 college football in the 80's and until I read this book I was not ashamed of my sport; I am now and hope that there is something that I can personnally do before it collapses on itself.
If you are a fan, you need to read this book. If you are not a fan, you need to read this book.
The only part of this book that I did not like was that he split the story of his time at Virginia Tech into two segments: one was the first few chapters, and the second was the last chapter. I understand what he was going for by showing that football can be done correctly at the beginning and the end of the book; but for a casual reader who spends a few weeks reading the book, they may not remember the beginning that well, and the segmentation takes away from the experience.
I would suggest this book to any football fan. If you dedicate a full day of the week to a sport, you should try to educate yourself in every aspect of it (even the things that aren’t as fun to hear about). It touches on interesting topics that bring in different ethical debates into the game of football. As a football fan, I was glad that I read this book that exposed the NFL for what it really is. Easterbrook does a solid job of showing that football isn’t all fun and games.
Juxtaposed in here is a story about Virginia Tech and how football is “done right.” As it happens, Frank Beamer of Virginia Tech announced his retirement today, and Easterbrook illustrates clearly the standards on which Beamer built and operates his program. From simple things such as the support for individuals, the cultivation of responsibility, and raising good citizens, to the focus on academics as the first stop in a recruit’s visit to Virginia Tech, the author covers the structured pieces of the Hokie football program as well as the nature of the people who run it and their relationships with the athletes and the school. One of the primary points, revisited at the end of the book during a discussion on the upcoming ranking systems for the NCAA Division 1 football playoffs, is the achievements Frank Beamer has made in graduation rates for football players that exceeds the general school population. The author spent 2011 embedded with the Hokie football team and he documents little known facts such as that Virginia Tech reserves 19,000 seats of the 67,000 seat stadium so every student can have a seat at home football games, during which 30% of the attendees are students, the highest percentage in Division 1. Almost all other major Division 1 schools sell 80-90% of the tickets to paying outside customers. The University of Tennessee, for example, seats 102,000 at Neyland Stadium but only allots 13,500 student tickets.
Easterbrook describes how DeAngelo Hall came back to school several years after becoming the highest draft pick in a decade, because no matter how great a star they become, players get their names inscribed in the tunnel only if they graduate. He describes how ESPN and the NCAA failed to make any mention of the fact that the Stanford-Virginia Tech Orange Bowl had the highest combined graduation rate of any BCS bowl game ever. Even at traditional pre-game dinners at the Farmhouse Restaurant in Christiansburg, players get called up and served by their GPA.
He describes the standards Beamer has set for supporting and graduating African American players, and the loyalty he has shown to the Vick boys in spite of their troubles. He also shows that even when programs like Clemson and Florida make a public spectacle of violating NCAA rules like practice limits and number of coaches and film time, Frank Beamer’s program follows the rules to the letter.
Virginia Tech, like Boston College, Notre Dame, BYU, Duke, Stanford, Northwestern, Nebraska, and the service academies refuse to lower their standards for admission and performance, and in fact, have far higher standards than their conferences require. Thus, in Easterbrook’s view, these teams have difficulties maintaining ranked teams, much less top ten teams. I would personally add that Virginia Tech has a student honor council based on Virginia Tech’s longstanding honor system. The football program could not overrule that student honor conduct council when it decided to expel one of the top running backs widely expected to take a lead role this fall. The Student Conduct Committee has jurisdiction over student activities that occur on school property and they have priority over the athletic director and the football coach. At what other major college football power could this conceivably happen? If there is a list, it is likely very short. This occurred after the book was published, but I cannot imagine Beamer fighting these traditions as might easily be done at other schools. In fact, Beamer’s non-negotiable focus on standards and an almost naive view of raising and educating good citizens is pointed out by Easterbrook as reasons that he will never bring home that national championship trophy.
Of course, there is danger in putting too much faith in a single person or program - just ask Penn State. Easterbrook’s acclaim for Frank Beamer and his program needs to be considered in that light. However, Hokie Nation, students and alumni, should be proud of the accomplishments of their program - beyond winning games. And to that point, Easterbrook also mentions the contributions of other Virginia Tech luminaries such as Dr. Stefan Duma who has instrumented helmets, measured and analyzed impacts during football activities, and proposed a rating systems to drive adoption of better quality helmets.
The larger book is about football and what’s wrong with it today. Easterbrook has a number of recommendations to ensure it is still the national game years in the future.
The author, Gregg Easterbrook, writes the ESPN column, Tuesday Morning Quarterback, and has also written for Slate, NFL.com, and the New York Times, and Atlantic Monthly. There’s much more in here, and I highly recommend the book. Easterbrook’s writing is excellent, his knowledge of football, especially from his experience as a high school football coach and writer covering the NCAA and NFL give him an excellent perspective and insight. His presentation is so interesting that I found myself marking pages with the best quotes and anecdotes for later reference.
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