During the NFL’s regular season this year, I didn’t watch football. I’d read about how concussions were affecting players after they left the game (in The New Yorker, The New York Times, and elsewhere), and I found it hard to enjoy watching knowing that some players on the field would have serious health problems in a few years because of the sport.
Kathy Newman today posted an excellent summary of the reality of playing in the NFL as part of a post on football and the working class:
Do all NFL players make millions of dollars for years upon end? The statistics might surprise you. The average NFL career lasts 3 seasons, due to the high rate of brain and leg injuries. The median salary in the NFL in 2009 was $770,000. While that might seem like a ton-o-cash, factor in a 35% tax rate, and 6% to the agent. Now factor in a college education that was not completed or which was poorly attended to. And this: 78% of all NFL players are bankrupt within two years of the leaving the league.
So this Sunday, whether you are munching on Polish sausage or pierogies, chew on this. 78% of the men suited up in black and green and gold will be bankrupt in the next 5-10 years. They will be replaced by younger models, who will be encouraged to play even more aggressively, while at the same time threatened with fines totaling in the hundreds of thousands when they do. They will be coming out of college earlier, with less schooling, and less guidance about what to do with their money during the brief period of time in which it is flowing. It seems too outrageous to be true, but those of us watching our storied teams do epic battle this Sunday, whether we be plumbers or professors, likely face a more secure economic future than the chiseled, wild-haired, hard-hitting football players that so beautifully represent out Rust Belt pride.
My football boycott started well. I did fine not watching football during the regular season; I particularly enjoyed having Sunday afternoons free.
But once the Steelers made it to the playoffs, abstaining from football became much harder. Now that they’re in the Super Bowl, it’s nigh on impossible to avoid being sucked into the excitement. It’s like a holiday: Stores and restaurants in western PA are closing at 4 or 5pm so employees can watch the game. Terrible Towels are everywhere; everyone seems to be wearing black and gold. I saw a school bus yesterday with “Go Steelers” written in the dirt on a back window.
So I’m heading to my parents’ house tonight to watch the game. And at the same time, I hope the NFL will address the problems that concussions and other injuries create for players.
Football season has begun, which means that fantasy football season has also begun. Again this year, I’m competing in the Pittsburgh bloggers fantasy league, now named the Yinz League.
My team includes Ben Roethlisberger, Randy Moss, the New England Defense, and a pile of other guys. I have players in the running back and TE positions, but I have little hope for them.
In general, it’s not a great team. Nonetheless I’m completely crushing PittGirl in this first week, thanks to Houston having no defense to slow Roethlisberger down and Randy Moss working well with the backup QB in New England.
Does a fall weekend get better than this? A gorgeous sunny afternoon, the Steelers winning, my fantasy team winning, and the prospect of a whole season ahead. Sweet.
Consider this excerpt:
With a heavy heart I watch that Sunday’s game between the Colts and the Jets. With 2:24 remaining in the game, Peyton Manning completes a 2-yard pass to tight end Bryan Fletcher, ending a 68-yard Colts drive. Colts 24, Jets 21. The Colts offense retreats to the bench, but before they can even sit down, the Jets kick returner Justin Miller runs the kickoff 103 yards to give the Jets a 28-24 lead with 2:20 remaining. Peyton Manning has just picked up the phone to talk to the quarterback coach Jim Caldwell when he looks up and sees Miller run down tiny little Martin Gramatica, the Colts temporary replacement kicker for Adam Vinateri. Manning hangs up the phone and quickly puts his helmet back on.
That may not sound like a paragraph from a woman’s memoir about trying to find true love in Pittsburgh, but it is. And amazingly, it works.
The book is Comeback Season: How I Learned to Play the Game of Love, by Cathy Day. It tells her story of what it’s like to be successful but single — or possibly single because you’ve been so busy being successful. But it also tells the story of coming back from failure, whether that failure is losing in the NFL playoffs or being passed over, yet again, by someone you cared for and who you thought cared for you.
The NFL comeback in question is that of Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts, who lost (to the Pittsburgh Steelers, rah) in the playoffs of the 2005 season and then returned in 2006 to win the Super Bowl. We know from the start what will happen with the Colts, but we don’t know whether Cathy will be able to mend her broken heart and find someone to love. Therein lies the story.
And it’s great fun. Granted, I may be a bit biased in this assessment, being a somewhat successful and chronically single woman in western Pennsylvania who also happens to adore NFL football. My first thought on hearing about this book was, "Damn, I should have written that." I started reading, and I had repeated jolts of recognition: Hey, I’ve been set up at parties too! Ooh, I thought I needed to write polite responses to everyone who wrote to me on Match.com also! Yes, I judge people by their command of spelling and grammar as well! After only a dozen or so pages, I was enjoying the book so much I was glad I hadn’t had to write it.
Then as I read further, and I saw where the story was going, how smoothly the storylines were woven together, how real the people were, how perfectly it all worked. And I started to feel a little envious again, this time because I knew I couldn’t have written this book — not as well as it’s written. Boy, it’s good.
I’m not the only one who enjoyed it:
“Cathy Day’s gutsy memoir is the stuff of a great Lucille Ball episode. Comeback Season is funny, sad; wise, idiotic; realistic, hopelessly romanticized. It’s a book to read all the way through — no flipping and skimming…How her season plays out is the stuff of good living presented as artfully as did the Queen of Comedy, who taught us misadventures have a place in prime time." —Nuvo: Indy’s Alternative Voice
If you know Pittsburgh, you’ll find little treats along the way: the Church Brew Works, Polish Hill, the Beehive on the South Side, and the Gist Street Reading Series all make cameo appearances, along with so many other local haunts. Pittsburgh’s sudden, stunning vistas pop up, just like in real life. And although she’s not from ’round here, Ms. Day paints a fair picture of those of us who are — which is impressive, considering she’s a lonely Colts fan stranded in Steelers Country.
(She does make one unfortunate reference to black and gold garb making local fans look like bumblebees. I’m only glad that the Colts and the Steelers never played each other during the season she chronicles, or there might have been real trouble.)
Comeback Season starts out as a clever premise but grows into a thoughtful treatise on the intersection of romance, success, confidence, and identity. Does Cathy win in the end? You’ll need to read the book and find out.
Order Comeback Season: How I Learned to Play the Game of Love online or buy it at your favorite bookseller.
Cathy Day currently teaches in the Writing Program at the University of Pittsburgh, so there’s a chance you’ll bump into her wandering around the Burgh. You can find her website at www.cathyday.com.
Better yet, you can hear her read from Comeback Season on Tuesday, February 12 @ 7PM, at the Joseph Beth Booksellers in the Southside Works, 2705 East Carson Street. UPDATE on Feb. 2: Due to a big ol’ winter storm, the reading is postponed. I’ll post the rescheduled date when that’s set. Stay home and stay warm!