There most likely will never be a Ball Four-like book revealing the dirty laundry of the National Football League because from what I gather the league has clauses in players and coaches contracts against such revelations. In NFL Unplugged the author takes stories and anecdotes that have been in the media previously and presents them as if he is exposing secrets. Nothing is really wrong with that, just know that nothing in this book puts the NFL in a bad light.
The very first section of the book tells the story of a mysterious offensive lineman who wants to remain nameless (oh, how secretive!). He is just referred to as 'the man.' What is so scandalous that the former NFL player wants to remain anonymous? It is simply that for almost half a season in the NFL he played with a broken tailbone. It was excruciating. He had trouble sitting and sleeping.
No reason is given as to why he does not want his name revealed. I am guessing it is so the author can spice-up an otherwise bland book. The player is Jon Runyan, former right tackle for the Philadelphia Eagles. At the time of the injury he talked about it openly. Many times I heard him on sports talk radio in Philadelphia discussing it (with the author of the book, no less). Sports writers in the local papers dealt with it as well. So for some reason now Jon Runyan wants to keep the story about this injury a secret? I doubt it.
From this opening the book then roughly follows a season in the NFL. Training camp, game day, and injuries are all addressed with anecdotes and quotes from players and coaches throughout the league. Former Philadelphia Eagles players are quoted several times each, they include Hugh Douglas, Ike Reese and Jeremiah Trotter.
What is the biggest story in professional sports in the last ten years? Many people would say Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs). Steroids and Human Growth Hormone (HGH) are not even mentioned in this book. Why not? Probably because it would make the NFL uneasy. Human Growth Hormone is not even tested for by the league. Do you think then, that just maybe, some players are using HGH? Most likely they are but the league, I am sure, does not want this discussed so it is quietly left out of the book.
The NFL's policy on recreational drugs is also conveniently over-looked. Here the league policy is to test players for recreational drugs once during training camp and if a player is clean then he is not tested again until next training camp. The players know this. Do you think some players might then use recreational drugs during the season?
The book ends with the lives of players after their career ends and it is not pretty. Hugh Douglas says that he cannot run and has difficulty playing with his children. Many players are in financial trouble just a few years after playing in the NFL. At an autograph show, one player lends another player gas money to get home. The big name players make the big money, most players just get by. The average career in the NFL now is less than 3 and a half years. If a player was drafted in a late round or undrafted it is very unlikely that he ever even saw a single big money contract.
Concussions are a growing concern for players and the league. Former running back Brian Westbrook tells of his fears regarding concussions and the sad story of Andre Waters is told. In 2006 Waters committed suicide and an autopsy revealed brain damage most likely from concussions sustained when he was a player (and possibly related to his depression). Fear not loyal fans, recently the NFL convened a Concussion Summit so all is well now. Keep enjoying and watching the game but more importantly keep buying beer and chips from advertisers.
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Published by Wiley, 288 pages (262 pages without index), I'd say rated R for language.
About the author: Anthony L. Gargano was born and raised in the Philadelphia area. He spent years in New York and Chicago writing for newspapers before returning to Philadelphia where he currently co-hosts a daytime talk show on sports radio and covers sports for a local TV station.