Tuesday, December 31, 2013

the last book I ever read (Mike Tyson's Undisputed Truth, excerpt fifteen)

from Undisputed Truth by Mike Tyson with Larry Sloman:

I went back to the States, but it wasn’t long before I got in trouble again. On May eighteenth, I was with my barber friend Mack chilling at Cheetahs strip club in Vegas. Back then when I wanted to get my head clear, I went to a strip club. That’s just what people did back in the early 2000s.



Monday, December 30, 2013

the last book I ever read (Mike Tyson's Undisputed Truth, excerpt fourteen)

from Undisputed Truth by Mike Tyson with Larry Sloman:

My dad drove out to Ohio a few weeks later with my sister’s two kids. He was a very interesting man at that stage of his life. He’d stay in church all day. He’d be there from nine in the morning until five at night, then come home and eat something and then go back to church until eleven.

He seemed to like my lifestyle. After a few days he got comfy and invited one of his preacher friends over—another guy who dressed real sharp. They’d be sitting around talking sh*t. I would just watch him, study his characteristics. I saw that he loved candy. He was a sixty-eight-year-old man and he was just loving eating his candy. I thought, Wow! I’m a candy guy. That’s where I’m getting it from.

In a way, I envied the way he had all these relationships with women. I was just miserable with relationships, but he had to beat women away. My father was a very successful pimp, but I couldn’t get two dogs to fornicate. My father had seventeen kids and they all became awesome people. Later on I met some of them and none of them were crazy like me.



Sunday, December 29, 2013

the last book I ever read (Mike Tyson's Undisputed Truth, excerpt thirteen)

from Undisputed Truth by Mike Tyson with Larry Sloman:

I talked to Camille later. She had been at the fight watching from the front row and she thought that I looked like I was in a daze.

“You didn’t throw any vicious punches,” she said. “You looked like you wanted to lose. Maybe you just got tired of it.”

She was probably right. I believed in the Cus theory that the only thing wrong with defeat is if nothing is learned from it. Cus always used to tell me that fighting is a metaphor for life. It doesn’t matter if you’re losing; it’s what you do after you lose. Are you going to stay down or get back up and try it again? Later I would tell people that my best fight ever was the Douglas fight because it proved that I could take my beating like a man and rebound.



Saturday, December 28, 2013

the last book I ever read (Mike Tyson's Undisputed Truth, excerpt twelve)

from Undisputed Truth by Mike Tyson with Larry Sloman:

I went back to my hotel room. There was no maid there. It was weird not being the heavyweight champion of the world any longer. But in my mind it was a fluke. I knew that God didn’t pick on any small animals, that lightning only struck the biggest animals, that those are the only ones that vex God. Minor animals don’t get God upset. God has to keep the big animals in check so they won’t get lofty on their thrones. I just lay on my bed and thought that I had become so big that God was jealous of me.



Friday, December 27, 2013

the last book I ever read (Mike Tyson's Undisputed Truth, excerpt eleven)

from Undisputed Truth by Mike Tyson with Larry Sloman:

I really believed that I was the baddest man on the planet. I was kicking Don’s ass thinking I was f*cking John Gotti over here. Don used to try to get me to go see a doctor. He’d say, “Mike, you need to go see a psychiatrist, brother. Something ain’t right here.” He actually got me to see Dr. Alvin Poussaint, Bill Cosby’s guy, a distinguished professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. He was a real erudite didactic guy. Poussaint asked me what my problem was and I starting saying crazy sh*t to him. “F*ck it. I don’t care about living and dying, I don’t give a f*ck.” That guy was so bourgeois and regal he made me sick to my stomach. He got the f*ck away though. He ran out of the house and never came back.

When I think about all the horrific things that Don has done to me over the years, I still feel like killing him. He’s such a liar and betrayer. He’s not a tough guy. He’d never been a tough guy. All the tough-guy things he’s done have been through him paying someone to do it for him.



Thursday, December 26, 2013

the last book I ever read (Mike Tyson's Undisputed Truth, excerpt ten)

from Undisputed Truth by Mike Tyson with Larry Sloman:

When Don King came to New York on August sixteenth, he dropped the bomb that I had signed an exclusive promotional contract with him. Bill went ballistic and threatened to sue. The women were pretty much out of the picture by now. They had lost their bid to take over my business. So they were continuing their Plan B—paint me out as some kind of monster and get a great divorce settlement. Throughout the summer, Robin kept giving interviews claiming that I was violent with her. But when the reporters would ask for documentation, they couldn’t back up her bullsh*t claims. I really don’t like to talk bad about people, and for all I know they both could have changed now, but back then they were the lowest serpenty bitches in the galaxy.



Tuesday, December 24, 2013

the last book I ever read (Mike Tyson's Undisputed Truth, excerpt nine)

from Undisputed Truth by Mike Tyson with Larry Sloman:

In her book, Robin implied that we hadn’t slept together, but I actually nailed her the first or second night when she came to my hotel. Instead she claimed that we strolled through the mall and played with puppies at pet shops for hours. Can you see me in a mother*cking mall, the heavyweight champion of the world? What the f*ck am I doing in a mall?



Monday, December 23, 2013

the last book I ever read (Mike Tyson's Undisputed Truth, excerpt eight)

from Undisputed Truth by Mike Tyson with Larry Sloman:

The next day, I went back to Eddie’s house and Eddie and Charlie were marveling over the fact that Prince and his guys had kicked their ass playing basketball. Prince had on his high-heel shoes and he was still hitting every bucket. Swoosh. Swoosh.

But if I had to credit one person for mentoring me in the ways of celebrityhood it has to be Anthony Michael Hall, of all people. When I was coming up in fame, before I became champ, I’d hang with him a lot. He was the man. He was the first guy I knew who had celeb money. And he was burning it up, man, with limos everywhere. He was so generous. So when I crashed my Caddy, I went out and bought a limo because I had seen how cool it was when we’d ride around in Michael’s.

I used that limo to go to Eddie Murphy’s New Year’s Eve party in 1987 at his New Jersey mansion. It was a star-studded party with Al B. Sure!, Bobby Brown, Run-DMC, and Heavy D. I was cocky but I was still a little shy. But not too shy to pile three girls in the back of the limo and take them back to my apartment in Manhattan.

My days of abstinence were over. I was an extremist at everything I did, including sex. Once I started banging women, the floodgates opened. Short, tall, sophisticated, ugly, high-society, street girls, my criteria was breathing. But I still had no line and for the most part didn’t know how to approach women.



Sunday, December 22, 2013

the last book I ever read (Mike Tyson's Undisputed Truth, excerpt seven)

from Undisputed Truth by Mike Tyson with Larry Sloman:

My next two opponents seemed to be going down in caliber. Maybe Jimmy and Cayton just wanted me to get some more one-round knockouts after those two decisions. I obliged them with William Hosea, but it took me two rounds to knock out Lorenzo Boyd. But my lightning-fast right to the rib cage followed quickly by a thundering right uppercut left the crowd wowed. Two weeks later I got everyone’s attention by demolishing Marvis Frazier, Joe’s son, in thirty seconds. I cornered him, set him up with my jab, and then finished him off with my favorite punch, a right uppercut. He looked severely injured so I rushed over to try to help him up. I love Marvis; he’s a beautiful person.



Saturday, December 21, 2013

the last book I ever read (Mike Tyson's Undisputed Truth, excerpt six)

from Undisputed Truth by Mike Tyson with Larry Sloman:

“Cus is not going to make it through the night, Mike. They say he has a few hours to live.”

I just started crying like it was the end of the world. It was. My world was gone. All the girls at the bank were staring at me.

“Is there a problem?” The manager came up to us.

“We just heard that a dear friend of ours is dying and Mike is taking it very hard,” Jimmy said. He was cool and collected. Just like that, boom, no emotion, just the way Cus trained him to be. Meanwhile, I was still crying like a lost soldier on a mission without a general. I don’t think I ever went back to that bank, I was so embarrassed.



Friday, December 20, 2013

the last book I ever read (Mike Tyson's Undisputed Truth, excerpt five)

from Undisputed Truth by Mike Tyson with Larry Sloman:

That was the day that I turned into Iron Mike; I became that guy 100 percent. Even though I had been winning almost every one of my fights in an exciting fashion, I wasn’t completely emotionally invested in being the savage that Cus wanted me to be. After that talk about me being too small, I became that savage. I even began to fantasize that if I actually killed someone inside the ring, it would certainly intimidate everyone. Cus wanted an antisocial champion, so I drew on the bad guys from the movies, guys like Jack Palance and Richard Widmark. I immersed myself in the role of the arrogant sociopath.



Thursday, December 19, 2013

Gary Larsen, the seventh interview from Deadspin's Would You Do It Again? series



"There's a lot of guys that played, you know, the time I played, that have had a lot of serious problems, that have committed suicide or are in homes. You know, they don't know if they're on foot or horseback. They've lost it all."

I have been talking (including twice this morning) and will be talking (including this afternoon and twice more tomorrow) with some of the more than 4500 former NFL players who have filed suit against the League over concussions and other head injuries.

today, one of the Minnesota Vikings' original Purple People Eaters, two-time Pro Bowler, and veteran of 149 regular-season NFL games, Gary Larsen.

my thanks to Deadspin for the opportunity, and to all the former players who have shared their thoughts and time.



the last book I ever read (Mike Tyson's Undisputed Truth, excerpt four)

from Undisputed Truth by Mike Tyson with Larry Sloman:

On June 10, 1984, I finally got a shot at the Olympics. My qualifying fight was against Henry Tillman, an older and more experienced boxer. In the first round, I knocked him almost through the ropes. Then he was up and I stalked him for the next two rounds. But in amateur boxing, aggression isn’t rewarded and my knockout counted the same as a light tippy-tap jab. When they announced the decision, I couldn’t believe that they gave it to Tillman. Once again, the crowd agreed and they started booing.

I hated these amateur bouts. “We are boxers here,” these stuffed shirts would say.

“Well, I am a fighter, sir. My purpose is to fight,” I’d answer.



Wednesday, December 18, 2013

the last book I ever read (Mike Tyson's Undisputed Truth, excerpt three)

from Undisputed Truth by Mike Tyson with Larry Sloman:

In May and June of 1981, I went after my first championship—the Junior Olympics. I probably had about ten fights at that point. First you had to win your local tourney, then your region, and they you competed in Colorado for the national title.

I won all my regionals, so Teddy and I flew to Colorado and Cus took a train because he had a fear of flying. When I entered the dressing room, I remembered how all my heroes had behaved. The other kids would come up to me and put out their hand to shake, and I would just sneer and turn my back on them. I was playing a role. Someone would be talking and I’d just stare at him. Cus was all about manipulating your opponent by causing chaos and confusion, but staying cool under it all. I caused such chaos that a few of the other fighters took one look at me and lost their bouts so they wouldn’t have to fight me later on. I won all of my fights by knockouts in the first round. I won the gold by knocking out Joe Cortez in eight seconds, a record that I believe stands to this day. I was on my way.

I became a local hero after I won that gold medal. Cus loved the attention I was getting. He loved the spotlights. But I kept thinking how crazy all this was. I was barely fifteen years old and half of my friends back in Brownsville were dead, gone, wiped out. I didn’t have many friends in Catskill. I wasn’t interested in school. Cus and I had already established what we wanted to accomplish, so school seemed to be a distraction from that goal. I didn’t care about what they were teaching me, but I did have an urge to learn. So Cus would encourage me and I read some of the books from his library. I read books by Oscar Wilde, Charles Darwin, Machiavelli, Tolstoy, Dumas, and Adam Smith. I read a book about Alexander the Great. I loved history. By reading history, I learned about human nature. I learned the hearts of men.



Tuesday, December 17, 2013

the last book I ever read (Mike Tyson's Undisputed Truth, excerpt two)

from Undisputed Truth by Mike Tyson with Larry Sloman:

After that first time, I was going in and out of Spofford like it was nothing. Spofford became like a time-share for me. During one of my visits there we were all brought to the assembly room where we watched a movie called The Greatest, about Muhammad Ali. When it was over, we all applauded and were shocked when Ali himself walked out onto the stage. He looked larger than life. He didn’t have to even open his mouth—as soon as I saw him walk out, I thought, I want to be that guy. He talked to us and it was inspirational. I had no idea what I was doing with my life, but I knew that I wanted to be like him. It’s funny, people don’t use that terminology anymore. If they see a great fight, they may say, “I want to be a boxer.” But nobody says, “I want to be like him.” There are not many Alis. Right then I decided I wanted to be great. I didn’t know what it was I’d do but I decided that I wanted people to look at me like I was on show, the same way they did to Ali.

Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t get out of Spofford and do a three-sixty. I was still a little sewer rat. My situation at home was deteriorating. After all those arrests and special schools and medications, my mother had no hope for me at all. But she had never had any hope for me, going back to my infancy. I just know that one of those medical people, some racist assh*le, some guy who said that I was f*cked up and developmentally retarded, stole my mother’s hope for me right then and there. And they stole any love of security I might have had.

I never saw my mother happy with me or proud of me doing something. I never got a chance to talk to her or know her. Professionally that would have no effect on me, but emotionally and psychologically, it was crushing. I would be with my friends and I’d see their mothers kiss them. I never had that. You’d think that if she let me sleep in her bed until I was fifteen, she would have liked me, but she was drunk all the time.



Monday, December 16, 2013

the last book I ever read (Mike Tyson's Undisputed Truth, excerpt one)

from Undisputed Truth by Mike Tyson with Larry Sloman:

My brother Rodney was five years older than I was so we didn’t have much in common. He’s a weird dude. We’re black guys from the ghetto and he was like a scientist—he had all these test tubes, was always experimenting. He even had coin collections. I was, like, “White people do this stuff.”

He once went to the chemistry lab at Pratt Institute, a nearby college, and got some chemicals to do an experiment. A few days later when he went out, I snuck into his room, started adding water to his test tubes, and I blew out the whole back window and started a fire in his room. He had to put a lock on his door after that.

I fought with him a lot, but it was just typical brother stuff. Except for the day that I cut him with a razor. He had beaten me up for some reason and then he had gone to sleep. My sister, Denise, and I were watching one of those doctor-type soap operas and they were doing an operation. “We could do that and Rodney could be the patient. I can be the doctor and you can be the nurse,” I told my sister. So we rolled up his sleeve and got to work on his left am. “Scalpel,” I said, and my sister handed me a razor. I cut him a bit and he started bleeding. “We need the alcohol, nurse,” I said, and she passed it to me and I poured it onto his cuts. He woke up screaming and yelling and chased us around the house. I hid behind my mom. He still has those slices to this day.



Sunday, December 15, 2013

the last book I ever read (The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football, excerpt fourteen)

from The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian:

Saban and his staff followed what defensive coordinator Kirby Smart called “the blueprint” for success. As detailed by Andy Staples in Sports Illustrated, that blueprint targeted high school athletes who fit certain character/attitude/intelligence criteria and position-specific height/weight/speed guidelines tailored to Alabama’s offensive and defensive schemes. Cornerbacks, for example, should ideally be between six feet and six feet two inches and about 190 pounds and run a sub-4.5 forty-yard dash; linemen should stand no less than six feet two because, as Smart drily noted, “big people beat up little people.”

One of Saban’s pet peeves was the gross expansion of the entire recruiting game and the overload of information. The recruiting Web sites and four- and five-star rankings held reduced weight inside the program. “We have player descriptions, player profiles,” added Smart. “Guys that don’t necessarily fit that description, they may be a five-star guy, we’re just not interested in [them] because that’s just not what we’re recruiting. Sure there are exceptions to the rule, but we don’t want a team full of exceptions.”



Saturday, December 14, 2013

the last book I ever read (The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football, excerpt thirteen)

from The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian:

The arrests of four Alabama players after the 2012 season were indicative of a general problem that every BCS program confronts these days—student-athletes running afoul of the law. Research conducted for this book found that 197 players on BCS teams were arrested in 2012. That’s an average of 16 arrests per month. The SEC had the most arrests with 42, followed by 37 in the Big 12. Arkansas and Missouri led the nation in player arrests; both programs saw 8 players arrested in 2012.

Fewer than 25 percent of the 197 players who ran afoul of the law in 2012 were kicked off their respective teams. But virtually every player who was arrested more than once was dismissed or suspended. There was only one exception—Florida State’s star running back James Wilder Jr. Despite being arrested three times in 2012, he was not held out of any games. His first arrest occurred in February outside his girlfriend’s apartment. Police were there to arrest her. But Wilder intervened and was charged with battery against a police officer—a felony. Florida State’s head coach, Jimbo Fisher, indefinitely suspended him. But in early April, Wilder pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor—resisting an officer without violence. He was put on six months’ probation and required to take anger management classes. The same day that Wilder entered his plea, Fisher reinstated him to the team, enabling him to play in the spring game.



Friday, December 13, 2013

the last book I ever read (The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football, excerpt twelve)

from The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian:

But Sam Jurgens and his family might not ever understand. The Jurgenses had family roots in Tuscaloosa stretching back five generations to 1840. Their ties to the university were deep. And Sam and his father had bonded by rooting for Alabama football. “Football in the South is like a civil religion,” Jurgens said. “A lot of people are very passionate about it and value it in ways not much different than religious congregations.”

The beating Jurgens took at the hands of Alabama football players certainly caused him to reconsider how much of an Alabama football fan he’d be in the future. But more troubling was the fact that he never heard one word of apology or concern from anyone associated with the program. “The university has been very supportive and reimbursed me for all of my losses and expenses,” Jurgens said. “But members of the football team sent me to the hospital and robbed me. But I’ve had no one from the football team—not a coach or anything—approach me.”

In the second week of April 2013—two months after the incident—Jurgens approached Alabama’s dean of student affairs and express a desire to speak to Coach Saban about his ordeal. “I still identify myself as an Alabama football fan,” Jurgens said. “I had so much fun with my father with it over the years. But no one should have to go through what I went through.”

Despite his ordeal, Jurgens said the athletic department informed him that no one from the football coaching staff would meet with him.



Thursday, December 12, 2013

the last book I ever read (The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football, excerpt eleven)

from The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian:

Jurgens thought the situation was odd. “Sorry,” he said. “I don’t smoke.”

He put his headphone back on and took a few more steps, unaware that a third man had come up behind him. The next thing Jurgens knew he was on the ground, fading in and out of consciousness, unsure how long he’d been there. His lip was split open. His left eye was swollen shut, and the entire left side of his face was numb, bruised and enlarged. He’d been struck with such force that he was knocked unconscious. Then he was kicked in the back and chest. But he had also sustained a concussion and had no memory of the attack when he came to on the sidewalk. All he knew was that his jacket and headphones were drenched in blood. The men were gone. So were his glasses and his backpack containing his Apple MacBook Pro.



Wednesday, December 11, 2013

the last book I ever read (The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football, excerpt ten)

from The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian:

Turnover among head coaches in college football is at an all-time high. Between 2009 and 2010, forty-four head coaches at major programs were fired—thirteen more got the ax in 2013. A cottage industry has cropped up to handle the high demand for new coaches. Most athletic departments now outsource the selection process to search firms that track which coaches are trending.

But Moos had no intention of turning this decision over to a group of headhunters who spent their days crunching numbers on laptops. Nor was he going to assemble an internal search committee—too bureaucratic. He preferred a one-man committee consisting of himself. Ever since his days at Oregon, where head coach Mike Bellotti was constantly a candidate to jump to the NFL, Moos had maintained a short list of potential head coaches. From time to time, he’d cross off one name and add another. But he always had a list. And he kept it in his desk drawer.

The short list to replace Paul Wulff consisted of one name: Mike Leach.



Tuesday, December 10, 2013

the last book I ever read (The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football, excerpt nine)

from The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian:

Saturday was game day. Pickens followed his routine. The morning was spent tooling around the ranch. While his guests shot skeet, played tennis and took a helicopter tour of the ranch, Pickens inspected the oil exploration project under way on the far corners of his property. By noon the televisions around the lodge were tuned to college football games on ESPN, ABC and CBS. Ohio State faced Michigan State in one room. West Virginia versus Baylor in another. By 4:00, Pickens had reappeared in the library wearing orange leather boots and an orange sweater vest. Everyone knew what that meant—time to head to the main event.

The Gulfstream engine purred on the ranch runway as passengers filed on board. Pickens sank into his seat and fastened his seat belt. Georgia and Tennessee were knotted up 30-30 on the flat-screen monitor at the front of the plane. Disinterested, Pickens glanced out the window at a herd of black cows grazing on prairie grass beneath a wooden windmill off the runway. The pilot invited everyone to relax. It was 178 miles to Stillwater: flight time, thirty-six minutes. At 4:30 sharp, it was wheels up.



Monday, December 9, 2013

the last book I ever read (The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football, excerpt eight)

from The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian:

In the world of twenty-four-thousand-square-foot weight rooms and twenty-four-carat donors, there are few absolutes. But there is this: no mega-program can physically survive a dozen heavyweight fights a year. The players are just too young, the bodies too fragile, the depth chart too thin, to handle the load and still be fresh when it comes to crunch time late in the season. So a smart athletic director—in concert with his head coach—concocts a regular-season schedule peppered with a couple of patsies. More often than not the pain relief comes in the form of home games against lower-division opponents or “directional” schools. The various sacrificial lambs are lured to slaughter by so-called guarantees—payouts that run from a few thousand dollars to several hundred thousand or more.

Over the years these money games had served but a single purpose: the visitors take a beating, take the check and use the funds to help balance deep athletic department deficits. So if that means the Savannah States of the world become roadkill at Oklahoma State (84-0) or Florida State (55-0)—a combined score of 139-0—as they did in 2012, so be it. Or if Idaho State gets run through a 73-7 meat grinder at Nebraska, take heart in the news that the Bengals athletic department took home $600,000 for the mugging—or about 5 percent of its entire athletic department budget.



Sunday, December 8, 2013

the last book I ever read (The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football, excerpt seven)

from The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian:

After an initial conversation with Charlotte Bingham, Liggett called Guy Bailey. They both felt they could resolve the matter and agreed to meet the following day—Christmas Eve—at Bailey’s office. Bailey said he’d make sure Gerald Myers attended, and Liggett agreed to bring Leach.

But a blizzard hit Lubbock on December 24, pushing the meeting to the day after Christmas. The delay gave Bailey plenty of time to think through the situation. Bailey liked Leach a great deal and admired the excitement his coaching style had brought to Lubbock. He and his wife, Jan, went to every home game. They had even gotten to know many of Leach’s players on a first-name basis. It was Bailey’s sense that Leach and his players had a strong bond and that the incident with Adam James was an isolated one, not a systemic problem.

Nonetheless, Bailey was uncomfortable with the way Adam James had been treated. After all, he had been diagnosed with a concussion. The dangers of concussions among pro football players were starting to attract national attention. That fall Congress had convened hearings on head injuries in the NFL. Public awareness around sports-related brain injuries were starting to pick up. Bailey felt it was only a matter of time before the NCAA faced similarly difficult questions about whether member institutions were adequately addressing the risks associated with concussions in football.

Less than two months before Adam James sustained a concussion, researchers at Boston University School of Medicine documented the first case of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)—better known as degenerative brain disease—in a college football player who did not play professionally. Mike Borich, a wide receiver at Snow College and Western Illinois University in the 1980s, died from a drug overdose on February 9, 2009. He was forty-two. During his college football career Borich sustained at least ten concussions. After college he had no concussions or head injuries. Yet by his late thirties he displayed many of the symptoms found in NFL players diagnosed with degenerative brain disease caused by head injuries. So Borich’s father donated his son’s brain for research. After diagnosing Borich with CTE, a leading sports concussion expert said, “Brain trauma in sports is a public health problem, not just an NFL problem.”



Saturday, December 7, 2013

the last book I ever read (The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football, excerpt six)

from The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian:

Hance ducked out of the reception and called Leach. He explained that the James family had made a complaint. The idea that Craig James had gone to the board of regents set Leach off. He decided he’d had enough of Adam James. “I’m going to kick him off the team tonight,” Leach said.

“You can’t do that,” Hance said.

Leach rattled off a series of issues with Craig and Adam James, including the time Adam broke a door at the coach’s office.

“Well, hell, you should have kicked him off the team back when he did those things,” Hance said. “But you can’t do it now.”



Friday, December 6, 2013

the last book I ever read (The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football, excerpt five)

from The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian:

The jury acquitted Mathis and Rashada on all counts.

Mathis’s criminal lawyer, Jere Reneer, said, “I’ve never felt prouder to be a lawyer.”

Outside the courtroom, Mathis’s grandmother cried and shouted: “Thank you, Jesus! Thank you, Jesus! Thank you, Jesus!”

Brown was devastated. After leaving the courthouse, she collapsed and started sobbing. “They raped me. They raped me. They raped me.” She had to be carried to the car. Over the ensuing months, she became a recluse and gained seventy-five pounds.

The verdict stung Kelly, too. Despite her long career, she had never tried a case against college football players. She saw things in the BYU case that were completely foreign to her. “There was something obviously very different about prosecuting football players,” she said. “The football dynamic was an undercurrent to everything we did. And it was ultimately football that had a very big influence on the jury.”

After the courtroom cleared out, three jurors were still around. Kelly cornered them and asked why they had acquitted. “The jury said they had suffered enough,” Kelly said. “They lost their scholarships. They were kicked off the team.”

Kelly said it was the most bizarre thing she’d ever heard—the idea that the players had been sufficiently punished when they lost their opportunity to play football. “That’s the power of college football,” she said.



Thursday, December 5, 2013

the last book I ever read (The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football, excerpt four)

from The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian:

Thirty institutions participated in the study. Information was gathered from twenty campus police departments and ten judicial affairs offices. In all, 107 cases of sexual assault were examined. The primary finding was that male student-athletes made up just 3 percent of the male student population yet were responsible for more than 19 percent of the reported sexual assaults on campus. Very few of these cases were publicly reported.

Subsequent research has suggested a range of factors contributing to why some athletes are more prone to abuse women, from a sense of entitlement to a higher frequency of casual sex with multiple partners to a warped sense of women as sexual prey. But the biggest factor may boil down to opportunity or access.

In the case of college football, there is no denying that just about everyone on campus is in awe of the young men who wear the uniform and fill the stadium on Saturday afternoons, including plenty of beautiful girls. The fact that some girls want to be seen with a football player does not, of course, necessarily mean they want to have sex with a football player. But the lion’s share of sexual assault cases against college football players—and athletes in general—usually involve a victim who willingly goes to an athlete’s turf—his dorm room, apartment or hotel—and later claims that something happened that she didn’t sign up for. In almost every instance, the accused played admits to sexual contact and claims it was consensual. It sets up the classic she-said-he-said scenario with a unique twist—when athletes are involved it is often she-said-they-said.

These cases usually come down to the freshness of the complaint, the strength of the physical evidence and, most important, the credibility of the accuser.



Wednesday, December 4, 2013

the last book I ever read (The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football, excerpt three)

from The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian:

The UT football program is the mother ship of money, generating $103.8 million in revenue during the 2011-12 football season—nearly $20 million more than No. 2 Michigan. Even more impressive, it produced a reported $78 million in profit. Not $78 million in revenue--$78 million in profit.

To behold the nature of the machine at work, take a walk around Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on game day or, better yet, on a quiet Sunday morning after a game. But give yourself some time. It takes a good half hour to circumnavigate the stadium alone, all 100,000 seats of it. The stone columns resembling hundred-year-old oaks only add to a percussive sense of size and strength.

Just inside an east-end entrance stands a statue of Royal, the certifiable Texas legend who died on November 7, 2012, at the age of eighty-eight. During his twenty years as head coach in Austin (1957-76) he won 167 games, three national championships (1963, 1969, 1970) and eleven Southwest Conference titles. The Sunday morning after his death, orange and red roses lay fading at the feet of his statue, the lone sound a state flag flapping in the breeze, clanging against a pole. A video board the size of a strip mall filled one end of the stadium. The day before, the Longhorns had honored Royal with, in part, moving videos on the giant screen. A white DKR logo was affixed to every player’s helmet, and the marching band spelled out ROYAL during its halftime performance. The real tribute came on Texas’s first offensive play—a razzle-dazzle pass out of Royal’s fabled wishbone formation, players and coaches pointing to the sky following the forty-seven-yard gain. It marked the beginning of a textbook 33-7 blowout of Iowa State.

“A fitting way to honor him,” said head coach Mack Brown after the game.



Tuesday, December 3, 2013

the last book I ever read (The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football, excerpt two)

from The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian:

“Bigger, stronger, faster,” said ESPN anchor Scott Van Pelt as he hustled down the ‘Bama sideline. “I don’t know what planet [D.J.] Fluker’s from,” he said, referring to Alabama’s six-foot six, 330-pound apartment building at right tackle, “but I know it’s not one where you and I live.”



Monday, December 2, 2013

the last book I ever read (The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football, excerpt one)

from The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian:

What kept Brandon—and so many other athletic directors up at night—was the razor-thin margin for error. Michigan’s overall surplus for fiscal year 2012-13 was estimated to be just $5.8 million. The athletic department needed rivers of cash to stay out of the red. More than 70 percent of that money—or nearly $90 million—flowed from a single source.

“Michigan athletics cannot be successful if Michigan football does not lead our success, because the revenue it creates is what we live off of,” said Brandon. “I think it was Mark Twain who said, ‘If you put all your eggs in one basket, you better watch your basket.’ That’s our basket. It can’t get sick. It can’t falter.”

That’s where the number 22 came in. According to the latest NCAA figures, just 22 of the top 120 FBS schools had turned a profit in 2010-11. The average institutional debt of the other 100 or so schools was approaching $11 million each.



Sunday, December 1, 2013

the last book I ever read (League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth, excerpt fifteen)

from League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru:

McKee and her colleagues had used their platform to become increasingly assertive about the dangers of football. One of their most ominous assertions was that full-blown concussions weren’t what was triggering the disease. Rather, McKee and her group believed that CTE was essentially dementia pugilistica—boxer’s dementia—now being found in other contact sports, especially football and hockey. As in boxing, it was the accumulation of hundreds or thousands of “subconcussive” blows that caused the damage, not one big knockout punch or open-field collision. “We don’t think it’s because of direct blows,” McKee said. “This is a very internal part of the brain. I mean, it’s really deep inside.” Cantu called CTE “a dose-related phenomenon” involving “total brain trauma.”

These assertions had obvious implications for the NFL. The league could change the rules to cut down on helmet-to-helmet hits. It could monitor the number of concussions in an effort to reduce them. It could put independent neurologists on the sidelines to look for concussions and try to end the culture of pain that pressured players to play through it. But if CTE was occurring at a deeper level, as the BU Group believed, that raised questions about the very essence of football.



Saturday, November 30, 2013

the last book I ever read (League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth, excerpt fourteen)

from League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru:

Ted Johnson was a hard-hitting New England Patriots linebacker for 10 years, winning three Super Bowls before his retirement in 2005. When he saw that Andre Waters had been diagnosed with brain damage by Omalu after shooting himself in the head, he decided to tell his own dark story. It was a story both unique to Ted Johnson and now familiar, with echoes of Webster, Hoge, and countless others. Johnson, like Webster, found that he couldn’t function without gulping down huge quantities of stimulants, in his case Adderall. His addiction, depression, and self-loathing frequently confined him to his bed, where he lay in the dark for days. He had migraines and memory loss and felt certain he was losing his mind.

Johnson first told his story in 2006 to the Boston Globe’s Jackie MacMullan, who was about to publish it until Johnson was arrested for assault and battery for pushing his wife into a bookcase. After the incident, Johnson begged MacMullan to delay the piece; she reluctantly agreed, not wanting to take advantage of a man she thought was clearly unstable. What happened next revealed a lot about not only Johnson but also Nowinski, who was intent on exploiting his budding relationship with the New York Times to the fullest. With MacMullan still sitting on her exclusive, she received word that Johnson had given his story to Alan Schwarz and the Times. MacMullan was furious at Johnson, who later told her that Nowinski had advised him to spurn her because the Times would bring “the best bang for the buck.” The betrayal was so audacious that Nowinski’s embarrassed colleagues and Times editors alerted MacMullan, who, after screaming at Nowinski, scrambled to get her own story published.



Friday, November 29, 2013

the last book I ever read (League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth, excerpt thirteen)

from League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru:

Harry Carson, the New York Giants linebacker of 13 years, had been profoundly affected by Webster’s death. He had flown to Pittsburgh to attend the funeral out of respect for his former opponent and had spent time talking to Garrett, who described in detail his father’s horrific final years. Later, when Carson learned that Omalu had diagnosed Webster with brain damage, he was heartbroken. He partly blamed himself. Carson flashed back to the brutal tactics he had employed to try to neutralize Webster’s incredible strength—how he gathered “all of my power from my big rear end and my thighs into my forearm,” which he unleashed on Webster’s head. “I’m the guy that he would fire off the ball to hit, and I would hit him in the face with my forearm, you know?” Carson said. “And so I was distributing the damage.”



Thursday, November 28, 2013

the last book I ever read (League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth, excerpt twelve)

from League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru:

“This 6-year study indicates that no NFL player experienced . . . cumulative chronic encephalopathy [brain damage] from repeat concussions. While the study did not follow players who left the NFL, the experience of the authors is that no NFL player has experienced these injuries.”

The NFL hadn’t actually studied retired players, but that didn’t stop the league’s experts from concluding that none had sustained long-term brain damage. Pellman and his colleagues would repeat this statement, in some form, over and over and over.

Except that not even the NFL believed it to be true.



Wednesday, November 27, 2013

the last book I ever read (League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth, excerpt eleven)

from League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru:

Nine months later came yet another NFL study in Neurosurgery. This one dealt with repeat concussions. Numerous previous studies had shown that one concussion left the brain vulnerable to another concussion if the brain wasn’t given time to heal. Guskiewicz had taken it a step further: Repeat concussions, he’d found appeared to increase the probability of dementia later in life greatly. But that wasn’t a problem in the NFL, according to Pellman et al. The league looked at how quickly players went back on the field and concluded that they were at no greater risk than if they had never been concussed at all. The logic was that because players returned to the field so quickly, they must have been okay or the medical staff wouldn’t have cleared them. This flew in the face not only of previous research but of widely known realities on an NFL sideline. First, players often didn’t report their injuries. Second, they hid their symptoms whenever they could. Third, NFL doctors often deferred to the wishes of coaches and players, just as Pellman had deferred to Parcells. As Steelers doctor Tony Yates had said: “Only a head coach can pull a player off.” The entire NFL culture was incentivized toward risk.

For the first time, the NFL also took on the issue of football and brain damage, a growing concern among researchers. The league’s scientific opinion? This wasn’t a problem in the NFL either. Boxers got brain damage. Football players didn’t. It was as simple as that. “This injury has not been observed in professional football,” Pellman and his colleagues wrote.



Tuesday, November 26, 2013

the last book I ever read (League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth, excerpt ten)

from League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru:

The study’s conclusion was blunt: “Our findings suggest that the onset of dementia-related syndromes may be initiated by repetitive cerebral concussions in professional football players.”

Guskiewicz kept going. He now focused on the earlier finding suggesting that concussions triggered depression. He isolated players reporting at least three concussions and found that they were three times more likely to be diagnosed with clinical depression.

Guskiewicz observed these results with pity and sadness. What had happened on the field to players such as Al Toon, Merril Hoge, and Troy Aikman was certainly powerful. But Guskiewicz—in his lab at UNC, away from the fans and the pressures of the NFL—was discovering something even more profound: a persuasive argument that concussions were not only an inevitable part of professional football but often led to misery and torment later in life—not only for the players but for everyone around them. The results were “daunting,” he wrote, “given that depression is typically characterized by sadness, loss of interest in activities, decreased energy, and loss of confidence and self-esteem. Those findings call into question how effectively retired professional football players with a history of three or more concussions are able to meet the mental and physical demands of life after playing professional football.”

Guskiewicz, Bailes, and their colleagues made it clear that they believed that the game itself was causing something destructive and insidious to occur deep inside the brains of huge numbers of retired players. Football-induced concussions, they wrote, “can result in diffuse lesions in the brain. . . . These lesions result in biochemical changes, including an increase in excitatory neurotransmitters, which has been implicated in neuronal loss and cell death. A potential mechanism for lifelong depression could be this initial loss of neurons, which could be compounded by additional concussions, eventually leading to the structural changes seen with major depression.”



Monday, November 25, 2013

Rich Strenger, the sixth interview in Deadspin's Would You Do It Again? series



"I’m kind of old school. I’m 53 years old, and I love the game of football."

I have been talking (including just this morning) and will be talking with some of the more than 4500 former NFL players who have filed suit against the League over concussions and other head injuries.

today we feature our interview with former Detroit Lions offensive lineman (by way of the University of Michigan) Rich Strenger.

my thanks to Deadspin for the opportunity, and to all the former players who have shared their thoughts and time.



the last book I ever read (League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth, excerpt nine)

from League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru:

The survey went out in 2001. The response was overwhelming, an indication of how badly the players wanted to be heard. Guskiewicz sent out surveys to all 3,683 living members of the NFL Retired Players Association; 2,552—over 69 percent—sent it back. The survey highlighted more completely what the original had only hinted at: More than 60 percent of the players reported sustaining at least one concussion during their careers; nearly a quarter had had at least three. More than half said they’d lost consciousness on the field or experienced memory loss at least once. But perhaps the most disturbing finding was the apparent correlation between the number of concussions and depression. Players who reported concussions were three times as likely to report that they were depressed. Guskiewicz wasn’t immediately sure why this was so, but he theorized that the concussions or the symptoms of the concussions—perpetual headaches, memory loss, erratic moods—were causing it.



Sunday, November 24, 2013

the last book I ever read (League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth, excerpt eight)

from League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru:

“I don’t think it’s rocket science to say that there’s chronic injury from head injury in football,” Westbrook said. “I mean, we’ve all talked about it.”

It would be years before it was known publicly what Edward Westbrook had concluded about Mike Webster, a period in which the concussion issue would sweep over the NFL like a giant wave and the question of what the league knew about the connection between football and brain damage—and when it knew it—would potentially be worth millions, if not billions, of dollars.

On October 28, 1999, on Westbrook’s recommendation, the retirement board granted Webster “Total and Permanent” disability benefits on the basis of his injuries. A few months later, Fitzsimmons received a letter from Sarah E. Gaunt, the plan’s director, explaining the decision: “The Retirement Board determined that Mr. Webster’s disability arose while he was an Active Player.” The medical reports, including one from the NFL’s handpicked neurologist, “indicate that his disability is the result of head injuries suffered as a football player with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs.” The league’s own disability committee—chaired by a representative of the NFL commissioner and managed in part by the NFL owners, who elected that commissioner—had determined that professional football had caused Mike Webster’s brain damage.

A decade later, as thousands of former players were suing the NFL for fraud, Fitzsimmons, who by then had nothing to do with the lawsuit, would describe that 1999 letter as “the proverbial smoking gun.”



Saturday, November 23, 2013

it was Friday, so I talked to retired NFL players all day long



yesterday I interviewed four former four former NFL players who have joined the lawsuit against the League over head injuries for our continuing Deadspin series. the youngest of the four retired as a player in 1999. the oldest entered the League in 1966, and this is the inside of his New Orleans Saints helmet from right around 1968.

my thanks to all for a very informative day.



the last book I ever read (League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth, excerpt seven)

from League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru:

The NFL, in a refrain that would seem eerily familiar years later, downplayed the crisis. Greg Aiello, the league’s director of communication, repeatedly told reporters that the rate of concussions since 1989, when the NFL began to keep track, was unchanged: one concussion every three or four games. The data, Aiello said, had been collected by the teams and passed on to an epidemiologist who had crunched the numbers of the NFL’s competition committee. “In the big picture, when you consider the number of times the head is impacted [in pro football], the number of concussions is relatively small,” said Aiello. “But hey, they do occur. And maybe there’s more we can do.”

But of course it depended on how you counted concussions. The league, Aiello acknowledged, was counting head injuries as concussions only when a player lost consciousness or was seriously dazed. Garden-variety concussions were not part of the program. Joe Maroon did his own calculations and estimated that two to four concussions occurred in every NFL game.

That discrepancy perhaps should have raised red flags. At minimum, there was a 156 percent difference between the rate of concussions reported by the NFL and the rate reported by the senior neurological expert in the league. Maroon said that he, for one, was quite concerned. But few people seemed to notice.



Friday, November 22, 2013

the last book I ever read (League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth, excerpt six)

from League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru:

In the tenth week of the 1992 season, the New York Jets traveled to Denver to play the Broncos. The Jets’ premier receiver at the time was Al Toon, an elegant contortionist whose jazzy surname perfectly fit his improvisational style. Toon stood 6-4 and once made the Olympic trials in the triple jump. He frequently hurled himself into space to make impossible catches, climbing above defenders who lacked his speed and balletic grace. Toon often paid for it: The Steelers’ Lloyd once knocked him out cold, then slapped the turf with his palm next to Toon’s splayed body as if he were counting him out.

In Denver, Toon caught a pass and was falling near the sideline, his head about a foot off the ground, when linebacker Michael Brooks flew over him, catching the back of his head with his elbow. It was not a particularly dramatic hit—Toon would later say that Brooks “grazed” him—but the effect was like “a cannonball hitting me on the back of the head,” he said. From that point forward, what Toon recalled about the play was gleaned largely from film and information he picked up from the Jets’ trainers.

As he lay on a training table in the dank basement of Mile High Stadium, Toon found that there were many gaps in his memory. They included: How old am I? Do I have kids? What am I doing here? What year is it?

“I had to go through a process of remembering who I was,” he told ESPN’s Greg Garber.



Thursday, November 21, 2013

the last book I ever read (League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth, excerpt five)

from League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru:

For most professional athletes, retirement is like falling off a cliff. Webster was 40. He had played 17 years in the NFL, 245 regular-season games. It had provided him with a militaristic structure for his life: train, practice, play; his work schedule was so rigid that it was printed up in the newspaper every fall. Now all of that had been ripped away. It was a struggle all professional football players went through: After so much violence, the transition was a form of post-traumatic stress. Most had trouble coping on some level, but this was different. People who came in contact with Webster found him delusional about both his career prospects and how and where he and his family would survive.

Bob Stage, the Steelers’ pilot and his close friend, flew out to Kansas City to spend a weekend with Webster. In some ways, he was the same old Webby; Mike still called him Robert, using the faux French pronunciation, and was generous to a fault. Stage knew that some of the financial problems could be traced to people who had treated Mike like an ATM: “They took his generous heart and took advantage of him.”

“You’re the only friend who’s never asked me for money,” Mike once told Stage. But in Kansas City, Stage found Webster totally unrealistic about his future. One warm evening, Webster decided he wanted to throw a baseball around. “Mike had so much nervous energy, he about wore my arm out,” said Stage. “The sad part is, he wouldn’t listen to anybody. That night when we were playing catch he told me: ‘I’m gonna become an agent.’ I said, ‘Mike, you didn’t even get your degree at Wisconsin. How are you going to do that?’ He would come up with these ideas, but the dots didn’t connect.”

“I think I’m gonna sell RVs,” Mike said to Pam one morning. The next day he announced: “I think I’m gonna go to chiropractor school.”



Wednesday, November 20, 2013

the last book I ever read (League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth, excerpt four)

from League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru:

During an exhibition Monday-night game at Kansas City, Hoge caught a pass out of the backfield and headed toward the goal line. Several defenders closed in, including nine-time Pro Bowl linebacker Derrick Thomas. As Hoge braced himself for the collision, Thomas plowed his helmet into Hoge’s ear hole.

Hoge lay on the turf, motionless. “I’ve never been in an earthquake, but the first thing I thought was, ‘Holy cow, man, the earth is shaking,’” he said. “It was shaking so bad I couldn’t get up. I had no equilibrium. I was like, ‘This damn earth won’t quit shaking.’” Tim Worley, a former Steelers running back who had come over with Hoge, was one of the first people to arrive on the scene. “Aw, damn,” Worley said, looking down at his obliterated friend.



Tuesday, November 19, 2013

the last book I ever read (League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth, excerpt three)

from League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru:

One of Webster’s greatest assets was his head. He used it as a battering ram, smashing it into his opponent as he exploded off the line. To stop Webster, nose tackles and linebackers tried to neutralize his head. Harry Carson, the great New York Giants linebacker, came into the NFL when Webster was in his prime. He found that his best strategy often was to bludgeon Webster as he fired off the line. “When I would explode into Mike, it was power against power,” Carson said. “I would hit him hard in the face. That’s what we were taught: to hit a guy right in the face so hard that they’re dazed and stunned.” Sullivan, who stayed friends with Webster for years, began to notice that a thick layer of scar tissue had formed on his forehead at the exact spot where he thrust his helmet into opposing linemen. Sullivan was jealous. It was a sign Webster was executing his block—play after play. “I was kind of disappointed that my forehead wasn’t, um, disfigured,” Sullivan said.

It wasn’t just the games that had hardened Webster’s head. Many Steelers considered the games a break from their normal reality. “We were a collision football team,” said Kolb. Years later, through collective bargaining, NFL players were able to cut down on contact during practice significantly, but not then. During training camp, the Steelers pounded one another for six weeks often twice a day. During the season, Wednesdays and Thursday were full-on contact. Friday brought goal-line drills—the teamwide equivalent of the Nutcracker. With the ball on the 2-yard line, the first-team offense cracked heads with the first-team defense over and over. It was one of Noll’s favorite drills.

Gerry “Moon” Mullins, who played alongside Webster for six years, thought that the players had been programmed to ignore the pain caused by the continuous violence. “They’d drag you back to the huddle: ‘Shake it off, man. We need your ass out here,’” he said. “Nobody knew any different. That’s just sort of the way you were, sort of like the GIs when they bring in young kids and they program them: ‘Rush that pillbox, that machine gun’s blazing out there!’ Nobody in their right mind would do that.”

Pam Webster said her husband often came home with searing headaches that he attributed to his job. When the headaches occurred, Webster would retreat to the bedroom and lie alone in the dark for hours.



Monday, November 18, 2013

the last book I ever read (League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth, excerpt two)

from League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru:

Webster’s training regimen included anabolic steroids. Decades later, this would still be a matter of debate in some circles, but the evidence was conclusive. Most notable was Webster’s own admission: At least two reports in his lengthy medical file contained references to steroids. In 1993, less than three years after Webster retired, a Pittsburgh doctor reported: “He took anabolic steroids for a very short time when he was in his twenties.” Another report in 1993, based on a doctor’s conversation with Webster, asserted that he “only rarely experimented with steroid use” during his playing career. Those reports contradicted Webster’s repeated public denials and almost certainly understated the extent of steroid use.

Webster’s involvement with performance-enhancing drugs coincided with their emergence in the NFL, which didn’t officially ban steroids until 1983. At least two of Webster’s teammates, running back Rocky Bleier and guard Steve Courson, later admitted using steroids while they were legal. Courson, who was killed in 2005 when a tree fell on him while he was cutting it down, asserted “unequivocally” in his 1991 autobiography, False Glory: Steelers and Steroids, that 75 percent of his teammates on the offensive line used steroids. Bleier, in an interview, said he also saw Webster take amphetamines before and during games and wondered if his drug use later affected him. “I mean, the question with Mike has always been, the effect of steroidal use on his body—did this have an effect or not—and then taking amphetamines during the game,” Bleier said. “It was all legal stuff at the time, but there was still a stigma.”



Sunday, November 17, 2013

the last book I ever read (League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth, excerpt one)

from League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru:

Webster was born in 1952 in Tomahawk, Wisconsin, in the heart of the Northwoods, a tourist destination on the Wisconsin River where people hunt quail and deer and fish for musky, walleye, and largemouth bass. He was the second of five children: three boys and two girls. His parents met at a local bar called Tower Hill and soon afterward eloped to Michigan. “We had five kids before we even knew what was causing them,” said Bill.

For a child, it could have been idyllic. Webster was raised on a farm situated in an enchanted forest of sweet-smelling timber and folklore. The name of his high school football team was the Hodags, a mythical horned creature said to roam the Northwoods. But the reality of Webster’s early life was chaos, poverty, and shame. Bill Webster was a potato farer and a local hell-raiser, a harsh disciplinarian who was quick to anger, quick to grab a belt to punish his kids. Mike Webster later told his son Colin that his father had beaten him “with sticks, switches, belts until he was black and blue.” Bill Webster’s own family history was riddled with turmoil and mental illness, including a brother who committed suicide. Webster’s mother had mental illness on her side of the family and eventually would have a nervous breakdown. A doctor later reported that among Webster’s four siblings, “all have had manic depressive illnesses, one requiring shock therapy and one who has had several suicide attempts.” His youngest brother, Joey, would spend much of his life in prison for a variety of crimes; in 1978, Webster’s fourth year in the NFL, Joey was convicted in Michigan on charges of bank robbery and illegal possession of firearms and sent to federal prison for 15 years.



Saturday, November 16, 2013

the last book I ever read (Meyer: A Novel by Stephen Dixon, excerpt five)



from Meyer: A Novel by Stephen Dixon:

“I’d love to take you and Mom out for lunch, but you won’t let me.”

“You don’t make enough to be tossing around dough like that. Besides, the food’s much better and safer at home than in any restaurant. And they’re all clip joints, charging half a buck for coffee when it should be, for what it costs them to make it and their overhead, a stinking dime.”

“They have to make a profit, don’t they?”

“What do you know about profit? You’re the guy who hates money. They make too much profit as it is, is what I’m trying to explain to you, and I don’t want it to be off you or me, where we’re taken for complete jerks.”

“Another reason for going out to lunch is Mom could use a break from taking care of you.”

“She’s getting one now.”

“You know what I mean. A restaurant, outside the house, having a lunch she didn’t have to make.”

“So take her and leave me.”



Friday, November 15, 2013

the last book I ever read (Meyer: A Novel by Stephen Dixon, excerpt four)



from Meyer: A Novel by Stephen Dixon:

Phone rang, waking him. Room was dark. Must be very late, he thought. Felt for his watch on his night table and pressed the face-light button on it. Ten to four. Can’t be anything but bad news. Phone kept ringing. “What’s going on?” Sandra said. “What time is it?” “The phone. It’s ten to four. It must be about your father. It’s bad news, I’m sure.” “Answer it.” “You don’t want to? I’ll bring over the portable.” “Just answer it.” He went to the phone and picked up the receiver and said “Yes?” “This is Dr. Cory at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. Is Sandra Rosen there?” “It’s about her father. He died this morning, didn’t he?” “May I speak to her, please?”



Thursday, November 14, 2013

Jon Melander, the fifth interview in Deadspin's Would You Do It Again? series



"So maybe I’m being naïve. Maybe I’m justifying the fact that I played and my son wants to play and I think it’s going to be okay if he plays college. Maybe it is naïve to think that he’s going to come out on the other side okay."

I have been talking, and will be talking, with some of the more than 4500 former NFL players who have filed suit against the League over head injuries.

today we feature our interview with former New England Patriots, Cincinnati Bengals and Denver Broncos offensive lineman Jon Melander.

my thanks to Deadspin for the opportunity, and to all the former players who have shared their thoughts and time.