Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Revew: Slow Getting Up (2013)

By Nate Jackson

Let's start the discussion about "Slow Getting Up" in an odd way, using the mathematical term subset.

There are many thousands of people who would like to play in the National Football League in a given year. Only a relatively handful make it. Think about all of the college players on all levels who would like to graduate to that last step, but don't. That gives you an idea about the odds involved.

Then out of that set of people, consider how many people are good writers. It's a handful of a handful. That's not a reflection of intelligence, since pro football players have to be smart in most cases to play a complicated game. It's more a matter of will, time and effort.

Say hello, then, to Nate Jackson, former pro football player. There's a blurb on the front cover that reads, "Man can write." And it's true. You know it after the first few pages. Thus begins a story of a football career that isn't told very often.

Jackson lasted six years in the National Football League, almost all of them with the Denver Broncos. He started his career as that rarest of breeds, the white wide receiver. But soon he was told to put on weight, move to tight end and play special teams. Yes sir, yes sir, yes sir. And he lived the dream.

It was never easy. The most interesting and eye-opening portions of the book deal with injuries. If you don't believe pro football is an incredibly rough and taxing game, you will after reading this. Jackson seems to be always hurt a little. Even the practices can be difficult, and Mike Shanahan, Jackson's coach in Denver, was relatively easy on the players in that area.

At other times, Jackson's body betrays him completely, with muscles being pulled away from bones and hamstrings getting severely pulled. That, in turn, leads to prematurely finished seasons, rehabs, and worries about getting cut. Pro sports is a good life as long as you can stay on the ride, but most people are constantly worried that the merry-go-round will stop for them at any moment - especially when they have little to do but heal. That insecurity infects every player in one form or another.

There are plenty of other insights into the life of pro football here, observations that are timeless even though the book ends when Jackson's career does in 2009. Are there, um, fringe benefits to being an NFL player off the field? Absolutely, and Jackson explores them. The title "NFL Player" can get you through some locked doors.  Assistant coaches still come in all shapes and sizes. Head coaches do too; two Bill Belichick disciples - Josh McDaniels and Eric Mangini - come off really badly here.

The most poignant part of the book comes when one of Jackson's teammates dies in an off-field incident. He writes about how football players are so focused on the task at hand, so insulated in the bubble, that they are completely unprepared for the emotions involved.

There are only a couple small aspects of the book that don't work particularly well. Terminology is difficult to the uninitiated, and a couple of sections get a little bogged down in it. Jackson does get credit for making most of it readable. There are also plenty of first names and nicknames after a brief introduction, and sometimes it's a little tough to remember who is who.

This is a relatively quick read that covers a career in only 240 pages. For those looking for a literate discussion of an interesting but somewhat mysterious business, "Slow Getting Up" works extremely well and sheds light nicely. Jackson ought to be able to have a fine and long "second life" in writing if he chooses to do so, and it won't be so hazardous to his body.

Four stars

Learn more about this book.

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