Timothy F. Grainey must have hoped for better.
When “Beyond Bend It Like Beckham” went to press, the United States still had a professional women’s soccer league. Of it, Grainey wrote, “WPS’s best hope is that more potential team owners become excited about the sport and join for 2012 or 2013, since they currently have only six franchises.” Instead, Dan Borislow, the clown who owned the franchise in Florida, badgered the already-fragile league into silence.
Still, perhaps the future of women’s soccer remains as bright as Grainey contends it is in this examination of the rise of the women’s game around the world. If the present is uncertain, the past was grotesque. “Brazil’s military government had banned women’s soccer until 1979,” Grainey writes. Now Brazil claims the world’s most accomplished and celebrated active female player, Marta Vieira da Silva, although she plays in Europe. It’s a struggle against tradition and prejudice for women to play soccer in parts of Africa and the Middle East, but as Grainey notes, “The Scandinavians made huge strides for girls’ and women’s soccer because of their historically egalitarian cultures and liberal attitudes toward equal rights,” and we can hope that those attitudes — and the soccer they make possible, if not inevitable — will eventually prevail elsewhere.
So much for the potentially bright side of our games.
In “The Most Expensive Game in Town,’’ Mark Hyman lays bare the sports-related price being paid by folks who already have equal rights. The parents of American child-athletes are inclined to spend lots of money on training, equipping, and clothing those youngsters, often to their detriment. Under the impression that their tiny pitchers, linebackers, goalkeepers, or wingers will earn athletic scholarships if they specialize in one sport early enough, these parents lobby for spots on traveling teams of tots, hire expensive personal trainers, and invest in summer-long road trips to enhance their children’s varsity potential. They are encouraged by organizations like SportsWorx.com, which advertises itself as “your ticket to college,” and Recruit-Me, which “pledges to share ‘THE SECRETS of getting recruited.’ ”
Hyman, himself once the eager supporter of his child’s athletic “career,” found that most college coaches pay no attention to the people offering these allegedly sure-fire fast tracks to scholarships. Many of those coaches run their own sports camps financed on the dreams of the parents of the campers. One coach “who asked not to be named” put it this way: “Ninety percent of the kids have it in their mind [that] they’ll end up playing for that school and that coach — the parents believe too. Out of the hundreds who show up, how many is the coach really interested in? Six or seven?”
The parents who understand those numbers believe their kids will be among the lucky half dozen. The company-sponsored coaches are more interested in sales of Nike sneakers, t-shirts, caps, sweatshirts, and jackets, all of which the campers will continue to demand after they’ve all gone home, sans scholarship offers.
All that is sad, but not as sad as another consequence of signing up your 8-year-old daughter for a softball team that plays 70 games a summer. These kids come to see the game as work. They lose interest and quit.
“Like Any Normal Day” is subtitled “A Story of Devotion.” Certainly it is that. The fellow at the center of the series of events movingly chronicled by Mark Kram Jr. is Buddy Miley, an accomplished and cocky high school quarterback until the game in which his neck is broken. Thereafter he is dependent on his mother and the rest of his family for care.
For entertainment, he depends on his imagination. He constructs an elaborate alternate universe in which he and his high school sweetheart (who cooperates to some extent in building the dream) live happily and healthily ever after. When that strategy no longer sustains him, Buddy persuades his younger brother, Jimmy, to take him to Dr. Jack Kevorkian, who hooks Buddy up to one of his suicide machines.
Kram learned of Buddy from a letter his mother wrote to Sports Illustrated 19 years after the accident, when Buddy was still alive. She characterized life in her home as “hell on earth” and hammered the NFL for glorifying football’s violence. She urged the league to “take strong measures to reduce the occurrence of these on-field injuries.” To that extent, at least, “Like Any Normal Day” is a book that has something to do with sports, but its power and significance certainly extend beyond that realm.
BEYOND BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM: The Global Phenomenon of Women’s Soccer
By Timothy F. Grainey
University of Nebraska, 279 pp., illustrated, $19.95
THE MOST EXPENSIVE GAME IN TOWN: The Rising Cost of Youth Sports and the Toll on Today’s Families
By Mark Hyman
Beacon, 160 pp., $24.95
LIKE ANY NORMAL DAY: A Story of Devotion
By Mark Kram Jr.
St. Martin’s, 261 pp., illustrated, $25.99