Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Like a Rose by Rick Telander

Rick Telander is a sports columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, who has written for Sports Illustrated, and has penned a number of sports-related books, most memorably Heaven Is A Playground – named one of Sports Illustrated’s top 100 sports books of all time. Like A Rose finds the author reflecting on his short stint as a prospective defensive back in the 1971 training camp of the National Football League’s Kansas City Chiefs. Subtitled, “Life Lessons from a Training Camp with Hank Stram and the Kansas City Chiefs,” the author cleverly juxtaposes his experiences playing football at the high school, college, and (albeit briefly) professional levels, with that of his own son’s passion for the game and the inherent dangers of the sport. Telander is at times conflicted between his love of football, the life lessons he took from the experience, and the increasingly publicized concerns about head injuries that his son faces while playing the sport. In between, Telander weaves an interesting story about finding a 15 cent spiral notebook diary he kept during his training camp with the Chiefs, and reflects on how the experience influenced the husband, father, and writer he became. Particularly poignant is Telander’s reconnection with his high school football coach and the author’s search for reasons why he became the star quarterback of his suburban Chicago school over thirty years prior. Throughout the book Telander throws out thoughtful gems of wisdom relating to the sport of football and lasting lessons it can teach. Perhaps most thought provoking is the idea that the game of football itself cannot exist without the very real potential for injury. Telander writes, “The possibility of injury – even severe injury – on any play was the very key to the game. If you couldn’t get hurt, if you didn’t stand the chance of hurting someone else….why play at all?” After his teenage son Zack is knocked unconscious during a game, Telander is left questioning the game he loves, “His eyes are closed and he is not moving. I look at his little boy’s face through his big man’s armor, and I feel as though I am looking at all my sins, all my stupidity, all my ignorance.” In the end, the author concludes that he cannot hold back his son’s passion for the game anymore than his own father could, and that for Telander the sport of football remains a teaching tool. Telander writes, “Football teaches you that life is hard, but it can be immensely rewarding….even thrilling.” Like A Rose is a short, easy read that will pleasantly surprise in the wealth of insight contained within.