A mild memoir

A mild memoir

Lead review

A mild memoir

There are many ways to be macho on a football field. In NFL Confidential: True Confessions From the Gutter of Football, a player writing under the pen name Johnny Anonymous relates a method of expressing masculinity that fans might not have considered.

“For some guys, linemen especially,” he writes, urinating in your pants while on the field “is actually a thing, a sign that you’re so into the game, so much of a fighter” that you won’t pause to use the toilet. “You’d rather let it spill out all over your legs.”

This is demented. The upside, I suppose, is that you have marked your territory. The downside: It won’t be hard to find urine for that drug test now.

Bodily waste plays a large and wince-inducing role in this tell-all book. At 6-foot-3 and 279 pounds, the author is skinny for an offensive lineman in the National Football League. Coaches order him to pack on pounds. He finds this hard to do.

So each week, on the evening before his weigh-in, he eats until he is gorged. “When I wake up, my colon feels like it’s going to explode, like there’s a midget punching me in the gut with every step,” he writes. “But I hold that little man in. He’s not going anywhere.”

Then he consumes a big breakfast, drinks an oceanic amount of water, makes his weight, and sprints to the bathroom for sweet relief. The drama in all this is fairly intense; it’s like a Jason Bourne movie about intestinal distress.

NFL Confidential is the story of one year in the NFL, as told by a third-string lineman (that’s what he tells us, at any rate) who kept a journal during the 2014 season. In a note to readers at the start, the author makes large promises. He will deliver “fun stuff, scary stuff, controversial stuff.” He declares: “To hell with being safe. I’m gonna be honest.”

This is bluster. The NFL has nothing to fear from this mild book. There’s little in the way of sex or drugs or crazy scenes. There is little or no gambling, insane spending, domestic violence or real addiction. Over in England, where anonymous memoirs from football (soccer, that is) players have grown increasingly gory with risqué detail, readers would almost consider this a children’s book.

The author is a nice guy, maybe too nice for a book like this one. In the offseason he lives with his dad. He loves his girlfriend back home, though they eventually split up. He drives a pickup and listens to granddad rock. “God,” he says, “I love the Beach Boys.”

The author tamps down whatever dark allure might exist in professional football. Forget the bling and the women, he says. Players watch TV and play too many video games. “We gotta be at our hotels by 10 pm,” he writes, “and we drink more protein shakes than alcohol.”

The author of NFL Confidential has played for four years in the NFL, we read in an author’s note, and was named one of the top linemen in the nation while in college, playing for a major football school. To his credit, the author is frequently a good observer of everyday life among professional football’s proletariat, and he gets some important things said. He is a white man who describes how racially divided the NFL is, with black players and whites ones mostly eating and partying separately.

He is bitter, at times, about what the sport does to players. He hates “what it does to our bodies, how it breaks us down, tearing our ligaments, shredding our knees, turning us into old men while we’re still in our 20s.” He adds, “Hate what it does to our minds, how it makes us forget things like where we put our keys and eventually who the hell we are.”

He writes about how players, especially when they lose, receive hate mail and are trolled on Twitter. “I know guys who home-school their kids because they don’t want their sons and daughters to face the abuse of their classmates after Daddy loses a game,” he writes. “The Players Association even offers us a discounted personal security package if we need to be guarded from the real psychos.”

Oddly, most of the best things the author expresses are the sorts of things he didn’t need to hide behind a nom de guerre to express. Still, he is likable enough that, if he hasn’t been injured or cut, I hope he’s still out there, his team in the playoff mix. Players get big bonuses for playoff games.

NFL Confidential
Johnny Anonymous
Dey Street Books
2015, pp 256, Rs 1,272