Concussion by Jeanne Marie Laskas is Not Just A Football Book

November 24, 2015 Sports 26

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).

Concussion, Jeanne Marie LaskasNonfiction – Medical Mystery/Sports
Released November 24, 2015
288 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Random House) via NetGalley

Headline

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!

Plot Summary

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.

Major Themes

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

Other medical mysteries:
Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

A focus on Traumatic Brain Injury in a different population (veterans):
Thank You For Your Service by David Finkel

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26 Responses to “Concussion by Jeanne Marie Laskas is Not Just A Football Book”

  1. Carmen

    Great review, Sarah! Thanks for the link.
    I really thought this would be a good book for you; I was more skeptical it was going to be a better fit for me because I know close to nothing about football. I chose it because of the medical mystery, and what a discovery that turned out to be! I liked the book pretty much for the same reasons as you. And as an immigrant, I can understand very well how Dr. Bennett sees as America, with the mixture of fascination and disappointment when things don’t turn out quite like you imagined them.

    • admin

      I thought this one was a fantastic medical mystery and it didn’t feel like a football book at all. And, how great that you could connect with it on the immigrant experience level too. Thanks again for the recommendation!

    • admin

      I wonder what my son will end up wanting to do…and what I’ll think about it. I also wonder if the game possibly will have changed drastically by the time he comes along (he’s only 4 now).

  2. Tara @ Running 'N' Reading

    Sarah, thanks for sharing Carmen’s post; found a new book blogger! I still have about 30% to go (did not get to read as much last night as I’d hoped), but it just keeps getting better and better; thanks so much for the recommendation! You’re definitely right about it not being a football book, per se; there is so much going on that the game of football is really insignificant. I love the politics and the scheming and the science; it has been captivating!

    • admin

      Yes, yes, yes! Football was the least interesting part of the book! Hope the ending was good for you!

  3. Ann @ Books on the Table

    This sounds fantastic — I have to get my hands on a copy right away! Both of my sons played high school football and I can’t even tell you how much I hated going to the games. It’s terrifying when you’re a parent — I spent most of the time hoping they would stay on the bench. My sons were also college athletes (although not in football — one rowed crew and one played lacrosse — and the lacrosse player had a career-ending injury that will affect him for life. I think our society has its priorities in the wrong place. It’s all big business. I am really looking forward to reading this — thanks for the review!

    • admin

      I know how you feel – my mom was always nervous on game day and relieved when a game went by injury-free. I’m sorry to hear about your son’s lacrosse injury…that’s another bruising sport. Both my brothers played college lacrosse as well…so, my youngest brother was getting hit 9 months out of the year between football and lax.

  4. Kathy @ Kathy Reads Fiction

    I love football and have seen some pretty scary injuries on the field, especially neck injuries. This sounds like a really good book, and I’m glad that people are being enlightened at the dangers of such a fun sport, but I understand your brother’s perspective. When there’s something we love so much, we accept the risks involved. I’m happy he is well from such an injury.

    • admin

      Yep – I guess if this wasn’t a valid outlook, no one would surf big waves, skydive, climb Mt. Everest, the list goes on and on. He’s fine so far…it wasn’t a big injury or anything, but was scary for a few minutes at the time.

  5. carrie

    i’m so intrigued by this book and this movie, so i’m glad to hear you thought so highly of it. my boyfriend is a big OSU fan so there was tons of commotion this weekend when Baker Mayfield was pulled from the game because of the hit he took.

  6. JoAnn @ Lakeside Musing

    This is a fascinating subject, and I’d never heard of this book before you mentioned it. The concussion issue/debate became relevant to me when my girls played high school sports. Not only football players, but basketball, field hockey, soccer. lacrosse…. all athletes can find themselves in that situation. Adding to my wish list. Great review.

    • admin

      Absolutely. I’ve been hearing some stuff about groups wanting to outlaw headers in soccer games for this reason.

  7. Stacy (The Novel Life)

    Recently I heard an interview on NPR with a neurologist who happened to love football but quit watching after seeing so many head injuries. It seems like the interviewee had a book that came out but I know he wasn’t from Nigeria. It’s been difficult but I’ve tried to avoid watching too much football this season {my own little boycott of the NFL}.

    I come from a football family as well. My brother played high school football and college so we were at the games every friday night or saturday afternoon. Will definitely be ordering this book. Thanks for sharing!

    • admin

      I haven’t stopped watching football, but definitely am focusing on different things now. Last weekend, I found myself analyzing all the hits!

  8. susan

    Nice review. I’m a big football fan too but I’m glad all this is coming out along with the lawsuit against the NFL etc. The movie-book tie-in should make a big splash. Hopefully rules will change regarding why the Rams QB wasn’t kept out of the game. I worry too about the younger guys in high school & college. They need to know everything about CTE. The doctor sounds fascinating.

    • admin

      I will be so interested to see what happens in the media after this movie comes out. And how the NFL reacts!

  9. Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness)

    This sounds so good! I bought it last weekend when you mentioned it, and I’m hoping to get to it soon. The NFL’s handling of all this concussion stuff has been so bad… which I guess is to be expected given how badly the organization handles just about everything that’s difficult. Ugh. I hate the NFL, even though I do love watching football.

  10. Judy

    Sitting around watching some football game on Thanksgiving Day and thinking, “Should I bring up this book?” Also watching the players’ heads and predicting their futures.

  11. Michelle

    Sold! I am adding it to my wish list immediately.

    By the way, is the movie with Will Smith soon to be released based on this book? I saw advertisements for it this weekend and was curious.

  12. Naomi

    In the provincial football league my son plays in, everyone is very careful about head injuries. I have no idea how careful they are in the CFL (Canadian Football League). It would be interesting to look into.
    This book sounds great, and I know you say it is about so much more than football, but do you think it would scare me? My son shows no signs of stopping.

  13. Citizen Reader

    Oooh, I love Jeanne Marie Laskas and am so glad to see she has a new book out. I find most of the joy has gone out of watching pro football for me already, but I could read another book on the subject. Another take on yet another downside to football is the excellent true crime book “Scoreboard, Baby,” by Ken Armstrong, about how a college football program goes to great lengths to cover up or minimize the misdeeds of its team’s players.

    • admin

      I haven’t heard of that one before, but it sounds juicy!!! I think I’ll be adding it to my never-ending TBR!

  14. Citizen Reader

    Well, it’s juicy, but be warned…it’s DARK. And mercifully focuses on one college team (the University of Washington), so hopefully, it is not representative of all college teams or players…

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