Synopses & Reviews
Acclaimed essayist Mark Edmundson reflects on his own rite of passage as a high school football player to get to larger truths about the ways America's Game shapes its men
Football teaches young men self-discipline and teamwork. But football celebrates violence. Football is a showcase for athletic beauty and physical excellence. But football damages young bodies and minds, sometimes permanently. Football inspires confidence and direction. But football instills cockiness, a false sense of superiority. The athlete is a noble figure with a proud lineage. The jock is America at its worst.
When Mark Edmundsons son began to play organized football, and proved to be very good at it, Edmundson had to come to terms with just what he thought about the game. Doing so took him back to his own childhood, when as a shy, soft boy growing up in a blue-collar Boston suburb in the sixties, he went out for the high school football team. Why Football Matters is the story of what happened to Edmundson when he tried to make himself into a football player.
What does it mean to be a football player? At first Edmundson was hapless on the field. He was an inept player and a bad teammate. But over time, he got over his fears and he got tougher. He learned to be a better player and came to feel a part of the team, during games but also on all sorts of escapades, not all of them savory. By playing football, Edmundson became what he and his father hoped hed be, a tougher, stronger young man, better prepared for life.
But is football-instilled toughness always a good thing? Do the character, courage, and loyalty football instills have a dark side? Football, Edmundson found, can be full of bounties. But it can also lead you into brutality and thoughtlessness. So how do you get whats best from the game and leave the worst behind?
Why Football Matters is moving, funny, vivid, and filled with the authentic anxiety and exhilaration of youth. Edmundson doesnt regret playing football for a minute, and cherishes the experience. His triumph is to be able to see it in full, as something to celebrate, but also something to handle with care. For anyone who has ever played on a football team, is the parent of a player, or simply is reflective about its outsized influence on America, Why Football Matters is both a mirror and a lamp.
"Edmundson's memoir attempts to explain why football means so much to him, and why its influence on his life has been so lasting. In the course of all this, he argues unconvincingly that there are lessons that only football can teach but this is a minor drawback in an otherwise intelligent and charming book. In each chapter, he focuses on a human trait, quality, or belief, and discusses how it relates to football: character, patriotism, and manliness are among those analyzed. An English professor at University or Virginia, Edmundson turns frequently to literature for his examples. The highlight of the book may well be his discussion of the ancient Greek heroes, Achilles and Hector, and their individual relationships with courage. Edmundson tentatively concludes that what we call courage or bravery may be little different from anger and the inability to repress it. Also enlightening, and moving, are the stories of Edmundson's relationship with his father and his youngest son, and the importance of football in these relationships. Unafraid to challenge common assumptions about what football does and does not teach us, Edmundson's book is uncommonly probing and insightful and should have wide-ranging appeal. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Los Angeles Times:
“Terrific. . . .Edmundson's Why Football Matters: My Education in the Game is an elegiac account of his youthful rescue and redemption on the high school gridirons of suburban Boston in the 1960s.”
“[Edmundson] presents a richly textured look at football as a vital part of American culture. [Why Football Matters] shows the deep connection between football and the core values of Western culture, something that isnt often stressed in as-told-to football books. Frankly, I cant think of a better way to while away the time between games this season than reading it.”
The Boston Globe:
“One of Edmundsons greatest strengths as a writer and thinker has always been his ability to present knotty arguments and erudite material in an accessible, appealing, and relevant way. In “Why Football Matters, he is similarly deft in linking literature to life, books to boys. From Jung to Emerson, from Shelley to Wordsworth, canonical authors are sprinkled seamlessly throughout and always to good effect. An extended discussion of two Homeric heroes, Achilles and Hector, works brilliantly as a way of opening up questions about courage, character, and what it means to win and lose.”
“The writing is uniformly strong throughout the book, as Edmundson vividly renders his memories of high school teammates or specific plays. He conveys warm feelings for the lessons he learned from football, particularly how to lose and get back up. And he gives moving examples of how the lessons he learned affected more important parts of life, such as helping him cope with his younger sister's death.”
Cleveland Plain Dealer:
“Eloquent…[Edmundson] brings the worlds of literature and pop culture to his playing field, citing everyone from George Carlin to Sigmund Freud, Herman Melville to Ralph Ellison.”
St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
“A from-the-heart memoir….a movingly told account of how the game taught him lessons that he used to direct his life.”
“In his erudite but approachable new book….[Edmundson] writes with wisdom and understatement…. [He] captures the deep vein of ambivalence that so many fans have started to feel when they think hard about the game."
Library Journal (starred):
“A wide-ranging and insightful meditation on what football means in American culture. Beautifully written and impressively thought out, this smart memoir should appeal to a wide audience.”
“Why football matters should be self-evident to a nation thats lost its mind over the game these past few decades, but Edmundson…gives an uncommonly thoughtful take on the issue….A remarkable memoir that can only elevate its readers response to the game.”
“Unafraid to challenge common assumptions about what football does and does not teach us, Edmundsons book is uncommonly probing and insightful and should have wide-ranging appeal.”
Megan Marshall, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Margaret Fuller: A New American Life:
“Mark Edmundsons first spell-binding memoir Teacher told how one inspiring high school philosophy class in the blue-collar suburb of Medford, Massachusetts, lured him into a life of the mind. Why Football Matters takes us back to Medford High and to harder, darker lessons learned on the turf of Hormel Field. I grew up in Pasadena, California, spent high school Friday nights cheering at home games in the Rose Bowl; few American lives are untouched by this supremely emblematic game that Edmundson examines with equal measures of sympathy and skepticism in a book sure to become its own American classic.”
Michael Sokolove, author of Drama High:
“Mark Edmundsons book is a great gift for those of us who love football but cant easily explain or justify our passion, as well as a superbly entertaining read.”
“An essential (Im tempted to say ‘indispensable) guide to the guts and the glory—and, yes, the grief—of maleness in America. Edmundson has written one of those rare memoirs that dares to make the personal political, that paints the picture even as it questions it. Perceptive, passionate, intolerant of platitudes (whatever their political stripe), Why Football Matters asks what makes boys, and the men they sometimes grow into, tick. What drives us, frustrates and frightens us. Whats admirable about us, what aint—and why. You dont have to know football, much less have played it—hell, even like it—to appreciate Why Football Matters; you only need to be a man, or to know one. Which covers pretty much everybody.”
“Ive long admired Mark Edmundsons work and I especially admire his new book: its understated balance, lucid prose, elegant logic, and above all for his complicity—his insistence upon acknowledging that he himself is part of the problem. (As are you, dear reader, as are you.)”
“Finally. Somebody with the required head, heart and soul skill set delivers us the game, our game, from within and without. Somebody takes us inside the helmet of a teenage boy who has offered himself to our rite of passage and makes us see-smell-hear-taste-touch it . . . while simultaneously floating above it, a psycho-spiritual scorekeeper tallying up everything thats gained and lost in the magnificent transaction. Finally. Somebody uses Nietzsche to render Nitschke. Somebody: Mark Edmundson. Thank you!”
About the Author
Mark Edmundson teaches in the English Department at the University of Virginia. He is a contributing editor at Raritan and the prizewinning author of numerous works of cultural criticism, including Why Read?; Literature Against Philosophy, Plato to Derrida; and Teacher. His essays have appeared in Harpers, Oxford American, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and The American Scholar.