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Thursday, March 31, 2016

Book Review: "NFL Confidential: True Confessions from the Gutter of Football" by Johnny Anonymous

Johnny Anonymous is the pseudonym for a back-up offensive lineman living on the margins of the National Football League.  His writing will not make anyone forget the works of Jerry Kramer and Dave Meggysey, although it is surprising that few if any have attempted to write a book on what the grind in the NFL is like.  It's a hard-hitting, macho game, one where the code of "what goes on in the locker room, stays in the locker room" is held near and dear.  Even with the omnipresence of social media and the mainstream media. 

In sitting down to write this review, I had a lot of false starts.  One thought that kept coming to mind was something Truman Capote once wrote in a book review -- "This isn't writing, it's typing, and not very good typing at that."  Sadly, that thought continued to loop, because, quite frankly, while the book has some interesting moments, overall it is not very good.

There are some interesting points -- about racial divides, about the insensitivity of coaches, about playing in pain, but the main problem with the book is that the writer is just not likable.  He gives you nothing that makes you want to root for him.  And I'm not talking about the fact that he's not appreciative that he has unique talents that enable him to do something that many fans dream of.  Forget about that -- it's a harsh game that can have long-lasting consequences on a player's health.  No, it's just that Anonymous is a skeptic and smart ass at best and a cynic and jackass at worst. 

Oh, he seems to be a decent teammate, trying to use humor and sensitivity to bond with his fellow offensive linemen, whom he either bewilders or for whom he is a sense of amusing relief.  But his life is not all that interesting -- it's the NFL grind, an odd relationship with a significant other and no real interests off the field that make you want to care about what he does when he is in the locker room or on the field. 

Maybe that is the point of it all -- it's hard work, it's not that interesting, and there are risks to it.  Atop that, if you are not a star, you don't feel the sense of teamwork and comradery that the head coach, who basically is a name and about whom we learn almost nothing, must preach for the team to excel.  In a certain sense, Anonymous is a hamster on a wheel, trying to take breaks when he can, although cognizant that he doesn't own the wheel or the schedule as to who has to be on it when. 

If you read anything about the NFL, you'll read this.  If you glorify the NFL and think that being a player is a glamorous job and what are they all worried about, think again and read the book.  If you are looking for compelling insights about how a back-up lineman approaches his work and goes about his job and tries to fit in, skip this.  Because Anonymous doesn't develop those thoughts much if at all.  Atop that, he is ambivalent about whether he wants to continue as a player. 

But it's not an internal debate about whether to continue because he is having the same thoughts as former 49ers linebacker Chris Borland, who wanted to walk away from the game before he started limping away from it.  Yes, long-term health concerns figure into this, but Anonymous just doesn't know whether he has the passion for the game the way some other teammates do.  His problem, in a nutshell, is that he has other possibilities and talents.  Those with no back-up plan and no other talents where they can command as much money are less ambivalent.  As with any vocation, those who show more interest and commitment tend to do better.

In the end, you don't know what to figure about Anonymous.  Many questions abound.  Do you dislike the fact that the book is written anonymous?  Do you like him because he is ambivalent or dislike him because he is not as transparent as he is trying to be?  Did you learn anything more about the workings of an NFL team than you had read before?  Do you dislike him because he is a sarcastic guy who has trouble following along? 

A worthy read?  Not really.  Why did I read it?  Because I hoped it would be the next in a line of "inside" books that shared depth of thought about what goes on within an NFL team.  While there is some good stuff in the book, there just isn't enough to cause me to recommend it.


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