Too violent, too soft, too nationalistic, too unpatriotic—is pro football in trouble? There was a day, writes The New York Times Magazine’s chief national correspondent, Mark Leibovich, in Big Game, a gossipy, insightful and wickedly entertaining journey through the N.F.L. sausage factory, when the league could make sticky problems disappear. Not anymore ... Reading Big Game—a sparkling narrative—one gets the sense that, 'dangerous times' aside, the N.F.L. will survive on the magnetism of the sport it so clumsily represents. Forget the greedy owners, the controversies, the Trumpian eruptions. Think instead of the last two Super Bowls—the historic Patriots comeback followed by the upset of mighty New England by the storybook Philadelphia Eagles, a perennial doormat. Pro football, minus the baggage, can be electrifying and redemptive. It’s September, time for kickoff.
Leibovich seems largely immune to the challenges around access and appeasement that many sports journalists face; he pursues his leads with the freedom of someone who’s embedding in the N.F.L. only temporarily. He writes with a brusque charm, training his eye toward features of the league that many longtime observers might take for granted or condition themselves to ignore ... At the same time, Leibovich is a fan like the rest of us, given to generic, often specious, and occasionally paranoid defenses of his cherished Patriots. As his book unfolds, though, his onetime ability to compartmentalize football and protect it from the nastiness of real life begins to melt away ... Leibovich’s nostalgia for a more innocent kind of fandom is upended, and football becomes another battleground in the culture wars. Leibovich just wanted to bond with Tom Brady. But he stuck around long enough to catch a glimpse into the league’s power structure, and it left him a bit queasy. He has a gift for sniffing out where true power lies, and his doggedness brings him to bathroom meetings among N.F.L. owners and sideline chats with the league’s commissioner, Roger Goodell ... Leibovich ends up reporting on a closed-door meeting in which owners debate whether Kaepernick’s kneeling protest during the national anthem is simply a 'media problem' in need of new imaging ... If there is a clear relationship between sports and politics, it might come down to whether you find yourself siding with labor or management: whether you think that a player should remain forever loyal to the first jersey he puts on; whether you view athletes as workers or just as people who should feel lucky to play a child’s game for a living.
The New York Times Magazine’s chief national correspondent has a book-reporting strategy that consists of attending events (Tim Russert’s funeral; an NFL owners meeting), hanging around the periphery and writing what he sees, with plenty of snark and personal asides for good measure. He’s a good enough writer to keep you from wanting to throw the book against the nearest wall. But if you look closely, you’ll realize he has nothing to say ... He spent four years going to football games, interviewing owners and various NFL pooh-bahs, attending draft days and owners meetings, and writing a more than 350-page book, and he’s punting? He is, and he does ... Leibovich tackles the concussion issue by going to Hall of Fame ceremonies and talking to retired players about their physical and mental problems. Nothing wrong with that, except that the serious discussion is overwhelmed by pages of pointless narration. At the 2017 Super Bowl, Leibovich describes the parties he went to ... To be blunt, I learned nothing about the state of pro football from reading Big Game that I didn’t already know.
The National Football League has been knocked around for the past few years like an undrafted rookie receiver, battered by the concussion controversy, domestic violence, Deflategate, and anthem kneelers. Commissioner Roger Goodell, the defender of the Shield, has become the planet’s highest-paid piñata. Fewer viewers are tuning in to what has been the country’s Sunday entertainment for more than half a century. 'Are we witnessing the NFL’s last gasp as the great spectacle of American life?' wonders Mark Leibovich.
Mr. Leibovich’s approach to telling the inside story of the NFL in all its glorious debauchery and denial is to go behind the scenes of this ego- driven world, or as he explains it, 'I embedded with the top executives of the sport,' including NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. On the surface this might not sound like the type of method that would yield enough interesting stories to fill a book.
A raucous, smash-mouth, first-person takedown of the National Football League, it is also the story of an aging fanboy whose reportorial eye and ear are far too acute to ignore what’s wrong with the game and the team he loves. Mr. Leibovich understands that humor—bruising, black-and-blue humor—is the best way to attack the self-seriousness and grandiosity of the NFL. It works as well for him as it did for his comically insurgent predecessors ... Mr. Leibovich allows [the NFL] to hang themselves.
Big Game by Mark Leibovich, a man who heretofore devoted much of his time to deflating the egos and images of Washington power brokers and their numerous, well-paid lobbyists, spin doctors, and assorted other enablers. Leibovich, a man used to sifting through polling data, included in his book the NFL fan profile statistics mentioned in the preceding paragraph ... In other words, Leibovich...has the perfect mindset to tackle the NFL, itself a bloated bureaucracy with a penchant for, shall we say, misdirection plays.
... Leibovich asks the right question — 'What to make of this beautiful s- show of a league.' He provides answers while inhabiting 'true believer' and 'cataclysm' camps ... The book is especially powerful and poignant when Leibovich addresses concussions ... Big Game is a cliffhanger. In the NFL, as in life, Leibovich concludes, the eternal question — how much longer? — touches everything. 'Clock management,' he reminds us, 'is a lie.'
A football fan and chief national correspondent of the New York Times Magazine, Leibovich spent four years immersed in the NFL’s 'cultural hunger games,' interviewing owners, coaches, and players to trace how football has morphed from 'being one of the most unifying institutions in America to the country’s most polarizing sports brand.' Still superpopular and profitable, the game’s present 'moral and cultural moment' includes ball-tampering, child and domestic abuse, brain-disease deaths, and knee-taking during the national anthem ... Leibovich covers Super Bowl parties, the NFL draft, training camps, Hall of Fame inductions, and more. The 'conservative, Republican, and nationalistic' NFL has mostly white fans (83 percent) and mostly black players (nearly 70 percent), he writes. However, the implications of that sociology—and the deep uncertainties facing the league—are lost amid the rollicking entertainment ... Must-read gossip for NFL junkies.
In this...cultural study, Leibovich takes an insider look at the National Football League ... A lifetime Patriots fan, the author weaves his personal experiences chasing Brady for interviews into a charged narrative that calls out the NFL for its willful obliviousness to the physical and mental toll pro football takes on its players, as well as the league’s chest-thumping defense of its logo, 'the Shield.' ... Enhancing his casual reporting with cynical commentary, Leibovich provides entertaining reading.