What is a Good Football Book? The Blind Side

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Dear Sports Fan,

I have a question for you from my coworker. He is making a last ditch attempt to get his wife interested in sports, especially pro football. She loves murder mysteries, so he asked for book recommendations that would merge the two. Do you have any recommendations? Preferably murder mysteries, but any engaging book will do!

Thanks,
Helen

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Dear Helen,

Last ditch attempt, huh? I too am a lover of detective novels but when it comes to introducing someone to American Football through a mind-blowingly good read, there’s only one book I would recommend: Michael Lewis’¬†The Blind Side.¬† I know you might be thinking “wasn’t that that chick flick from a couple years back starring the woman from Speed?” And you’d be right — yes, the material from the book was made into a movie¬†starring Sandra Bullock in 2009. I’ve seen parts of it and I think it’s probably a good movie but it probably wouldn’t get your friend’s wife into football. The book? The book might just do it.

Michael Lewis is an economist and a writer and a sports fan and he uses all three to great success in The Blind Side. The book has two key chronological stories. One, the one that the movie focuses on, is the story of a young, poor black boy growing up near Memphis. Michael Oher, the kid, is taken in by a rich white family and grows physically and academically until he is a 6’4″, 300 pound potential star college and eventual high NFL draft pick playing the position of left tackle. This is a great story in and of itself, and Lewis does a great job telling it without flinching or sensationalizing any of its many dicey elements — from Oher’s extreme poverty, to his academic and social struggles, to the suspicion that the Tuohy family (who basically adopt Oher) have designs on his playing for their alma mater, Ole Miss.

The other side of the story is a remarkably accessible history of football’s tactical evolution from being dominated by teams that could run the ball the best to teams that pass the ball the best and the effect that this evolution had on the position of left tackle. The left tackle is one of the offensive line-men, and thirty years ago the left tackle was just one of the offensive linemen, the big guys whose job it is to either clear the defense away from where the running back wants to run or to protect the quarterback from defensive players). As football began to tilt towards emphasizing the pass and the left tackle starting increasing in importance until around the time Michael Oher was in high school, when the left tackle was usually one of the top three players in terms of salary and importance. Why the left instead of the right tackle? Well, because most quarterbacks are right handed, when they prepare to throw the ball, their body is perpendicular to where they want to throw it, with their right arm cocked back. In this position, they cannot see defenders attacking them from the left side of the field. The left tackle protects a quarterback’s blind side when he is passing the ball.

The brilliance of the book and the cleverness of its title comes also from a mostly hidden third narrative. This narrative asks a tough question about our society. If so many semi-miraculous things had to go right for Michael Oher’s talent to make him successful, how many other talented poor children are we missing out on? If rags to riches is so insanely difficult on the football field, where talent is so objectively measurable (again — 6’4″, 300 pounds, and unbelievably athletic) how difficult is it for our society to identify talent in more subjective fields? The quarterback’s blind side makes him vulnerable to defensive rushes. He needs a strong left tackle to protect him. Social stratification makes our culture vulnerable to missing out on some of its brightest talents. Where’s our country’s left tackle? On top of being a touching story and a great tactical history of football, The Blind Side, is an insightful, challenging book about America.

Let me know if this works,
Ezra Fischer

 

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