Unless you’re stranded at sea or orbiting Earth in a spaceship, chances are you know it’s football season. If you’re a fan, this means your weekends are basically booked through January. You’ve got games to watch, tailgates to attend and wings to consume. We know: There’s a lot going on.
But, as overscheduled as you may be, there will be moments this season–at night after a big win or during long car rides to your alma mater, for example–when cracking a book feels right. From players’ personal stories to revealing inside looks at the sport, we’ve built you a list of the best new reads on the game. Grab one, bone up–and impress your buddies with your knowledge at the bar next Sunday.
1. The System
Exposing the college game
Fudged grades, pay-for-play arrangements, sex scandals: In college football, fans have seen it all. Oklahoma State’s program—the subject of an explosive five-part series in Sports Illustrated—is just the latest to come under fire. Two new books turn a critical eye on the college game: John Bacon’s “Fourth and Long” and Armen Keteyian’s and Jeff Benedict’s, “The System.” In the latter, 60 Minutes’ lead sports correspondent Keteyian and SI contributor Benedict expose the sort of corruption that’s become more of the rule, not the exception, at the college level.
Examining NFL concussions
When the the NFL agreed to a $765 million settlement with former players and their families last month, advocates who’ve pushed for more safeguards in the sport rejoiced. Study after study has shown that ex-NFL athletes suffer higher rates of depression and dementia—further evidence of the link between repeat-concussions and brain damage. But for decades, write ESPN reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru in their revealing new book, “League of Denial,” the NFL actively sought to camouflage those dangers. Weaving interviews with scientists and ex-NFL players (and the loved ones who now care for them) with stories of deceased athletes, Fainaru-Wada and Fainaru convincingly argue that the league failed to protect its own.
The history behind the game
There’s a debate among some about America’s favorite pastime: Is it baseball (the oldie) or football? Whatever side you’re on, it’s a cultural touchstone, writes ESPN contributor Gregg Easterbrook in his new book, “The King of Sports.” It’s part of our nation’s history, too: Two new books look at the civil rights movement through the prism of the college game. In “Breaking the Line,” Samuel Freedman tells the inspiring story of the 1967 black college championship between Florida A&M and Grambling University, while in “Rising Tide,” Randy Roberts and Ed Krzemienski detail the relationship between legendary coach Bear Bryant and his star quarterback, Joe Namath, who overlapped at Alabama between 1961 and 1965. As tensions simmered just beyond the campus, Namath and Bryant sidelined their own differing philosophies on race to bring the school a national championship in 1964.
For another take from the intersection of history and sports, check out “All American,” by Steve Eubanks. Eubanks recalls the most watched college matchup of the aughts, the 2001 Army-Navy game, where two young men faced off as opponents—and later, headed off to fight in the Iraq War.
In players’ own words
Oakland Raiders punter Chris Kluwe is one of the league’s most colorful players—so it may not come as a surprise that this summer he released a memoir entitled “Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies.” Kluwe gained attention last year for taking on Maryland state delegate–and gay marriage opponent–Emmett C. Burns, Jr. His memoir, which covers everything from gay rights to Ayn Rand, offers Kluwe’s hilarious views on football and plenty else.
There’s also “Strength of a Champion,” by O.J. Brigance. In 2007, the former Baltimore Raven linebacker was diagnosed with ALS. As the disease stripped him of the ability to walk and walk, Brigance continued to inspire the Ravens squad as a member of the front office and was there for their Super Bowl win last year. For Green Bay fans, there’s also “Driven,”by former star receiver Donald Driver, who started out as a homeless kid in Houston. And for an inside look at the lives of wide receivers, pick up ESPN host Cris Carter’s “Going Deep,” released this summer. With their blazing speed and fiery personalities, they’re some of the most popular—and expensive—players in the game. Drawing on his own 16-year career as a wide-out, Carter offers a unique perspective.
What makes coaches tick
Ever wonder, when you’re spitting at the television, what’s going through your team’s coach’s thick skull? We bet you do. “The Last Cowboy,” about former Cowboys chief Tom Landry, who led the program to 20 consecutive winning seasons and two Super Bowl championships, takes readers inside the storied coach’s world. For more on the minds of the guys with the clipboards, check out “Coaching Confidential,” which came out last year and hits shelves in paperback in November. To write the book, veteran football writer Gary Myers interviewed top coaches to reveal what it’s like to run a team from the draft through the playoffs.
Inside your favorite teams
Maybe they’re your hometown boys or your grandpa’s favorite squad. Whatever the case may be, there’s probably a football team that holds a special place in your heart. For Chicago Bears fans, it was the squad that won the 1985 Super Bowl—the subject of Rich Cohen’s “Monsters.” Fans of the Fighting Irish will want to check out Jerry Barca’s “Unbeatable,” the story of Notre Dame’s unbeaten 1988 national championship team. New York Jets fans (we know it’s hard–we’re sorry): If you’ve still got some goodwill left in your hearts for your team, Nicholas Dawidoff of the New Yorker offers his reflections on a year embedded with them in “Collision Low Crossers.”
Then there’s “Their Life’s Work,” journalist Gary Pomerantz’s book on the Pittsburgh Steelers squads of the 1970s. Pomerantz recently shared his favorite football books of all time with us. Take a look: