I remember the short sleeves. It could be freezing cold with a howling wind. Didn’t matter. He was always in short sleeves. And mud. And blood. And that Pittsburgh Steelers helmet that looked like it had been used to drive six-inch spikes into railway ties. Which, in a way, it had.
And that’s what killed Mike Webster.
His story — and the story of so many other professional athletes who ‘shook it off when they got their bell run’ and returned to the field — is at the heart of the book League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions, and the Battle for the Truth.
It’s also on my list of books I’d recommend for you this summer as you finally get a break from work and have a chance to lie on a chair in the sun, drink a cool one and just read.
The only concussion I ever had was, like Webster’s, caused by a hit while playing centre on my football team’s offensive line. I was bigger then. I hit the first guy and went down. Then the cleat of a linebacker charging through the gap slammed into my face guard.
I came to moments, or minutes, later. I didn’t know, and no one else knew, I’d ever been away. I was hunched over the ball, about to snap it to the quarterback. My hands were at the other end of a long black tunnel. Then the world returned to normal. Until a few hours later, when I started throwing up.
Webster wasn’t so lucky.
Asked once during a medical exam years after his NFL career was over if he’d ever been in a car accident, he replied, “About 25,000 times.”
He died at age 50, with the body of an 80-year-old, confused and in agony. The book about what happened to him, and the danger of concussions to all those who suffer them, is crystal clear. Some people will have their lives ruined by such injuries. It’s a compelling read.
Something lighter? How about The Female Brain?
True, I haven’t read it yet. It’s on my this-summer list. But just the stuff on the jacket convinced me to buy a copy.
• “A woman uses 20,000 words per day while a man uses 7,000.”
• “A woman remembers fights that a man insists never happened.”
• “Thoughts about sex enter a woman’s brain once every couple of days, but enter a man’s brain about once every minute.”
The book’s written by a woman by the way, Dr. Louann Brizendine, a neuropsychiatrist at the University of California, San Francisco.
Something in between, perhaps?
Any one of the Games of Thrones books is a good place to lose yourself. Just remember “winter is coming” and a “Lannister always pays his debts.”
If neither of those rings a bell with you, you’re behind the times. The TV series on HBO is great fun to watch, but the book is always better. OK, The Godfather movie was better than the book. I’ll give you that one.
Fair warning: Book 4, A Feast of Crows, is the weak sister of the five out so far. It was so long the publisher split it into two, with A Dance with Dragons turning into book five. It left book four feeling rather odd.
Prefer something more standalone?
I hated Stephen King’s work, until I read it. Figured no one that popular could be any good. Wrong. Stumbled onto Duma Key on my bookshelf recently and couldn’t put it down. An evil entity, a haunted location, a crippled artist. I was shocked it ended so soon, after just 769 pages.
Rick MacLean is an instructor in the journalism program at Holland College in Charlottetown.