I am a lifelong football fan and a Baltimore Ravens supporter. When the Ray Rice scandal hit, I swore off the sport for a year because of how poorly the NFL and the Ravens organizations respectively handled the situation.
The Rice situation provided me with an excuse to do something I had wanted to do for awhile: watch less football. It’s tough to overstate what a hold the NFL had on my life in my 20s. I’d plan work, break dates, check my phone in bad circumstances to follow the league, both my beloved Ravens and my fantasy team. But the league’s excesses combined with the knowledge of what concussions do to these people made me feel like I was being complicity in modern day gladiatorial behavior. Plus, from a faith perspective, I could better steward my time and finances elsewhere.
I still watch plenty of football, still play fantasy, still root for the Ravens from afar though I don’t care nearly as much as I used to. But in the four years since I made that commitment, I realize I’m not the only one. The game is declining in national attention if not overall interest.
Enter Mark Leibovich. A political journalist, Leibovich decided to cover the powers-that-be of the league for a few years and write a book, perhaps trying to get a picture of the NFL in its state of potential decline. It’s an interesting idea but slipshod in its execution. Leibovich is of the mold of writers who are my least favorite, someone that: a. gets off to his own prose, which he sees as clever and b. has no real focus for the subjects he’s covering, instead bouncing around from event to event.
So for those reasons, I can’t go higher than three because I think this book struggles to define why exactly it exists and what story it is supposed to be telling. But it’s tough to deny there are some fun parts: particularly around the owners, a group of 32 mostly white, mostly male rich boobs who have no idea how to interact with an average human being. All they can see are dollar signs and Leibovich is clear in his transparency here. I don’t know how anyone could read this and still side with an owner on a stadium deal or a holdout but hey, we live in the Trump era where the truth is a Rorschach test so what do I know?
Also, this might be the most candid portrayal of the least candid human being on earth: Roger Goodell. If you’ve always assumed Roger Goodell is basically a robot built by the owners to take public falls for them and make sponsors happy, this book won’t do much to dissuade you of that notion. Goodell seems like the most incompetent person on earth and yet he does a great job of placating the group I affectionately refer to as “the broke billionaires club.” The commish works for the owners and if you think any of these people care about you, the NFL fan, I’ve got some Enron stock to sell you.
Lastly, the whole thing with Tom Brady and the water is hilarious. It was out there in other places before the book came out but it’s still funny to see in print.
Overall, if you’re curious about this one, check it out but it won’t break any new ground for you.