I come from a football-loving family. We watched the NFL every Sunday growing up. My Dad played college football. Both my brothers played high school football and one of them went on to play Division III college football as a linebacker. And, my husband and I are still huge college football fans.
I watched my youngest brother get knocked out during one of his college games. When he came to, he passed the sideline “concussion test” and was cleared to play the remainder of the game, which he did. I recently asked him what he thought about the increasing focus on football players’ risk of brain injury and he said that (had he known the risks when he started) he probably would have played anyway because he loved the game so much.
And, this issue became front and center for the NFL this weekend (again!), as controversy swirled around why Rams QB Case Keenum was left in the game after he was clearly dazed following a hard tackle (read more here).
Nonfiction – Medical Mystery/Sports
Released November 24, 2015
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Random House) via NetGalley
Concussion is a so much more than a “football book”; it’s a medical mystery, a David & Goliath story, an immigrant’s story, and a story of a big-business cover-up…and, it’s my favorite nonfiction of 2015!
The story of Dr. Bennet Omalu, a native of Nigeria, who immigrated to the U.S. and used his neuropathological research into brain injuries to football players (i.e. CTE) to take on the National Football League (NFL).
Why I Read It
Carmen from Carmen’s Books and Movies Reviews brought this book to my attention. I honestly wasn’t expecting much, but figured I’d give it a shot since I love sports books and I have former football players in my family.
Brain injury to football players, politics of big business sports, whistle-blowing and cover-ups, Nigeria and its civil strife, depression, race, an immigrant’s experience
What I Liked
- This book was such an unexpected surprise for me! A third of the way through, football had been mentioned only once.
- The book opens with an intriguing “mentee vs. mentor” situation involving Bennet and his eccentric mentor, Dr. Cyril Wecht (the only member of a 1970’s forensic pathology panel who backed the JFK two bullet theory), which created immediate suspense.
- Bennet is an incredibly endearing person on the page. His experience growing up in war-torn Nigeria, his childlike wonder at basic features of America, and his incredibly naive view of what it would mean to take on the NFL made me root for him immediately. His experience as an immigrant also made for some unexpected humor:
Also, in America everyone stayed on his or her side of the road. That was a noteworthy feature right there. The people going west stayed in the westbound land and the people going east stayed in the eastbound lane. This is so organized!
- Laskas is an engaging writer and story-teller. She skillfully framed this story as a battle between good and evil. She included passages written by Bennet that give the reader a glimpse inside his brain. She captured the highs of the successes and the lows of the setbacks in a frenetic atmosphere that pulls the reader along with it. And, she created a palpable sense of outrage at a multi-billion business that has spawned “athletic men who have turned into suicidal toddlers.”
A guy spends fifteen years bashing himself in the head repeatedly with more than sixty g’s of force for a living, and then goes insane – well, his workplace owes him something.
What I Didn’t Like
Not one thing.
A Defining Quote
Nigeria was emotion, fire and prayer and hunches, and America was reason, ambition, and wealth. He bounced between those two spheres, not quite in one but not quite in the other. And maybe it was the necessity of having to hang in there, in the uncertainty of transition, pulling forward and getting pushed backward, that enabled him to see what others had not yet seen.
Good for People Who Like…
Medical mysteries, corporate cover-ups, David vs. Goliath stories, investigative journalism, exposés
Other Books You May Like
A focus on Traumatic Brain Injury in a different population (veterans):
Thank You For Your Service by David Finkel