On sports

‘The Concussion Crisis,’ ‘The Man Who Would Stop at Nothing,’ ‘Soccer Men’

Injured brains, ‘iron butts,’ and international stars

THE CONCUSSION CRISIS: Anatomy of a Silent Epidemic By Linda Carroll and David Rosner

Simon and Shuster, 336 pp., $26

THE MAN WHO WOULD STOP AT NOTHING: Long-Distance Motorcycling”s Endless Road By Melissa Holbrook Pierson

Norton, 191 pp., $24.95


SOCCER MEN: Profiles of the Rogues, Geniuses, and Neurotics Who Dominate the World”s Most Popular Sport By Simon Kuper

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Nation, 336 pp., paperback, $16.99

In the third quarter of the Oct. 16 NFL game between Philadelphia and Washington, Eagles quarterback Michael Vick went helmet to helmet with opposing safety LaRon Landry. When Vick got up, according to Brian Billick, who was broadcasting the game, Vick’s teammates had to hold “him up like a punch drunk boxer.” One of the Washington players, linebacker London Fletcher, told The Washington Post that Vick was “groggy, like he was about to fall down.” Five minutes and two seconds later, Vick returned to the Philadelphia lineup.

This incident does not suggest that the National Football League isn’t paying enough attention to its own new guidelines for dealing with players who’ve suffered concussions. It demonstrates that at least one NFL team is paying no attention at all to those guidelines.

“The Concussion Crisis: Anatomy of a Silent Epidemic’’ chronicles the history of how we came to discover that all sports-related brain trauma, even injuries that might appear mild, can have serious long-term consequences. Authors Linda Carroll and David Rosner revisit some of the case studies with which those who follow the gruesome fortunes of former pro football players have become familiar. The book also cites the experiences of much younger athletes, female as well as male, playing various sports, whose lives have been diminished because they, their parents, their coaches, and sometimes even their doctors, failed to take seriously the concussions the players had suffered.


“The Concussion Crisis’’ should be required reading for players at all levels, parents, and coaches. It has become clear this is not a problem that affects just a few, with estimates of sports-related concussions ranging from 1.6 million to 3.8 million annually in the United States.

You can also get hurt riding a motorcycle long distances, especially if you fall asleep while doing so at 75 miles an hour. Melissa Holbrook Pierson, author of “The Man Who Would Stop At Nothing,’’ did that. She was establishing her credibility as an “Iron Butt” motorcyclist - the sort of person who rides 1,000 miles in less than 24 hours, grabs some gas and a cup of coffee, then turns around and rides back.

The man in “The Man Would Stop at Nothing’’ is a diabetic monomaniac named John Ryan, whose motorcycle journeys are legendary. He does not stop to smell the roses - or for any other reason. This helps him to ride from Alaska to Florida much faster than anyone else has done it. Ryan may strike you as a singularly weird fellow around whom to build a book, but Pierson is an even better writer than she is a rider, and she pulls it off. For her and for those she chronicles, riding can make available “the erotics of risk.” Pierson has ridden enough herself to say she has been “pushed by force into a state of grace,” which certainly qualifies her to speculate on the particular madness exhibited by Ryan and lesser iron butts.

Like Pierson’s book, Simon Kuper’s “Soccer Men: Profiles of the Rogues, Geniuses, and Neurotics Who Dominate the World’s Most Popular Sport’’ might not seem to be for everybody. Why would somebody who cares nothing for soccer, if such people exist, want to read about the game’s most accomplished or notorious players? Because lots of readers appreciate the discoveries and musings of a fine writer, no matter the writer’s particular fascination. Kuper’s passion is soccer, or, more precisely, the people who play or have played it. Sometimes he is pleasantly surprised, as when he encounters the English star Michael Owens. Of this particular fellow who has apparently determined that courtesy - even courtesy to journalists - isn’t prohibited by his profession, Kuper writes: “His project - almost revolutionary in English soccer - involved not behaving like a half-wit.”

Among those Kuper celebrates is the gifted and accomplished Lionel Messi, who works his soccer magic on behalf of the preposterously successful Football Club Barcelona. He has “a style that they say comes from a child’s imagination.” “They” are fans in Messi’s native Argentina, where “a collective dream” of soccer practically demands every decade or so the appearance of someone as creative and dazzling as Messi.


In the introduction to “Soccer Men,’’ Kuper writes that he is no longer interested in “chasing interviews with players,” because “[i]t isn’t worth the humiliation.” Soccer fans and fans of sharp writing and quick, dead-on profiles can be grateful that Kuper didn’t earlier tire of the chase.