Not for Long: The Life and Career of the NFL Athlete

Robert Turner II was the first member of his family to go to college, attending James Madison University on an athletic scholarship.  But he did so because of his love of football and a desire to play at a professional level.

“I majored in communications because that’s what the other players did,” says Turner who played football professionally in the now nonoperational United States Football League, the Canadian Football League, and briefly in the National Football League until his career abruptly ended.

Consider Turner one of the lucky ones. He went on to earn a Ph.D. in sociology at the Graduate Center, City University of New York and is an assistant professor in the Department of Clinical Research and Leadership at The George Washington University School of Medicine & Health Science and also holds a position as a Research Scientist in the Center for Biobehavioral Health Disparities Research at Duke University.

One of his areas of interest is what happens to athletes when their playing days are done and, after amassing more 140 interviews with current and former NFL players and extensively researching the subject, he’s written OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA(Oxford University Press 2018; $24.95). It’s a look at what is the most popular professional sports league in the U.S., one where some athletes at the height of their physical prowess can boast stratospheric salaries in the multimillions  but then, often in just a few years, are no longer working.

“The stories of many of these players is heartbreaking,” says Turner. “I love these men and they’ve gone through a lot of pain and sorrow and it hurts to hear that but what kept me going was the awesome gift of being able to tell their stories.”

Turner describes his book as being about what happens upstream, the path that players take from high school and sometimes ever earlier through college and into professional sports. As for what happens after that, Turner says that society turns a deaf ear to their lives after college and the pros.

“People say well, they got their college education, they got all that money,” says Turner, who serves on the board of directors for the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Washington, D.C.

But many players don’t make millions.  Without guaranteed contracts, the majority of players are forced out of the league after a few seasons with few health and retirement benefits.

Statistics show that more than three-quarters of retirees experience bankruptcy or financial ruin, two-thirds live with chronic pain, and many find themselves on the wrong side of the law. Turner believes that’s no accident. The powerful the labor agreements between the NFL and players doesn’t provide much in the way of job security. And because players dedicated to their game and dream of becoming a professional have little time to prepare for what to do when their time on the field is over and have little in the way of marketable skills.

“It doesn’t just start at the NFL,” he says. “Universities and colleges should make sure all these players have the resources they need. Many of these kids come from environments where they haven’t learned many basics in terms of finances, planning ahead and all the other tools they need to be successful after sports. The League generates $15 billion a year and yet players are treated like disposable commodities. We need to help them learn how to transition effectively.”

Turner is currently a technical advisor and consultant and is making an on-screen appearance in Student Athlete, a documentary which looks at “the exploitative world of high-revenue college sports” and features four current and former college athletes, including Kentucky basketball player Nick Richards. Co-produced by NBA star LeBron James, Student Athlete debuts October 2 at 10 p.m. on HBO.

“The documentary is an important story about this subject,” he says. “We need to take care of all the players not just the 300 Hall of Famers.”

Ifyougo:

What: Robert W. Turner II discusses Not for Long: The Life and Career of the NFL Athlete. a Q&A and signing will follow the discussion.

When: Oct. 14TH from 3-4 p.m.

Where: The Seminary Co-Op Bookstore, 5751 S Woodlawn Ave., Chicago, Il

Cost: Free

FYI: 773-684-1300; semcoop.com

 

 

Author Peter Cozzens Discusses The Earth Is Weeping: The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West

For most cozzens_jacketof us who learned about the Wild West from movies, novels and TV shows both old and new, we’ve seen the concept of Native Americans go from persecutors to persecuted. But neither reality is true says Peter Cozzens, author of 16 books on the American Civil War and the Indian Wars that followed. Indeed, many senior army officers were sympathetic to the Indians and advocates of their rights says Cozzens in his latest book, “The Earth is Weeping: The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West” (Knopf 2016; $35).

“Another myth is that the government was exterminationist—cultural extermination, yes, but the government never contemplated the physical eradication of the Indians in the west,” says Cozzens who will be signing copies of his book on both Saturday and Monday in Chicago. “The War Department and the Bureau of Indian Affairs were constantly at odds over Indian policy with the military often more humane and restrained in their treatment.”

The third myth, according to Cozzens, is that the Indians stood united in opposition to white encroachment on their lands. Instead, in ways that helped doom their way of live, tribes continued to fight amongst each other at the same time they tried to stave off the encroachment of their lands.”

Cozzens, who retired from the American Foreign Service, is an avid researcher into the history of a time in our country so few of us really understand. It’s a very complicated period where many fascinating characters stand out including President Ulysses Grant, George Custer, Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, Geronimo, Red Cloud and General William Tecumseh Sherman. He soughtcozzens_author-photo out many Indian sources, weaving their information with American history in order to balance each one.

Spending so much time immersed in this time and place, Cozzens says that when he went to tribal lands in the West, places that haven’t changed much over the last century, he can feel what it must have been like for both the Indians and the military all those years ago.
Ifyougo:

What: Peter Cozzens book signings and talks at two Chicago venues.

When & Where: Saturday, October 29 at Noon. Abraham Lincoln Book Shop, 824 W. Superior St., Suite 100, Chicago, IL and Monday, October 31 at 6pm at the Chicago Public Library, Harold Washington Library Center, Cindy Pritzker Auditorium (lower level), 400 South State St., Chicago, IL

Cost: Free

HOME by Harlan Coben

Patrick and Rhys, two young boys from wealthy families went missing ten years before the night that Win, a relative of Rhys who prides himself on keeping his emotions under control but has no trouble with violence when provoked, spots Patrick in near the tracks at Kings Crossing, a seedy area where prostitution and drugs are rampant.harlan-author-photo-final_photo-credit-claudio-marinesco

Unsure of how to approach Patrick after all these years and wondering if he does so, whether Rhys will be lost forever, Win finds that the decision is already made when three dangerous looking men approach the young man. Wanting to save Patrick, he confronts the men and, though he subdues all three, Patrick disappears again.

“I had blown it,” Win tells himself, knowing that after all his years of fruitlessly searching, if the one lead that came his way was lost, he wouldn’t be able to help the boys’ parents who were trapped in a limbo of despair, crippling anxiety and unending heartbreak.

And so beings Home (Dutton 2016; $28), the latest mystery by author Harlan Coben, who has had ninehome consecutive #1 New York Times best sellers, reintroduces us to one of his most popular heroes, sports agent Myron Bolitar as he and Win try to find the boys and reunite them with their grieving parents.

Asked where he gets his ideas, Coben, whose books have sold 70 million copies around the world, says that anything can stimulate an idea.

“The hard part is knowing which ideas will work and being able to develop that idea into a workable story,” he says. “An idea is not a plot and it’s not a novel. Turning it into a story is where the real work comes in.”

Ifyougo:

What: Meet Harlan Coben

When & Where: 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, September 21, Union League Club, 65 W. Jackson Blvd., Chicago; 7 p.m. Wednesday, September 21, Skokie Library, 5215 Oakton St., Skokie.

FYI: (847) 446-8880; thebookstall.com

Nathan Hill: Author of The Nix

the-nix600 pages and eight years ago, Nathan Hill started writing a short story.

“I guess I gave myself permission to keep going,” says Hill, about The Nix (Knopf 2016; $27.95), his recently published—to rave reviews—novel that covers a lengthy time period and numerous geographic locations as he tells the story of Sam Andresen-Anderson, a disgruntled professor at a small college near Chicago. Unable to muster the energy to complete a book for which he was paid a large advance and fearing the publisher will sue to get the money back (it’s already been spent), he is also grappling with a plagiarizing student who might also sue him and pining for his childhood love. What’s a guyhill_credit-to-michael-lionstar_fotor to do? For Sam, it’s spending too many hours playing the World of Elfscape, a World of Warcraft-like computer game.

But Sam sees salvation when his mother, who long ago abandoned him, is caught on video throwing rocks at a politician. The video goes viral and Sam convinces his publisher to change out his unwritten novel for a bio of his mother. It’s also a way to learn who she really is—a radical feminist as the media portrays her or the girl who married her high school sweetheart.

A nix, in Norwegian mythology, is a spirit who sometimes appears as a white horse and steals children away. In Hill’s book, it’s anything you love that one day disappears, taking with it a piece of your heart.

“Hill has so much talent to burn that he can pull off just about any style, imagine himself into any person and convincingly portray any place or time,” writes the New York Times in a review. “The Nix is hugely entertaining and unfailingly smart, and the author seems incapable of writing a pedestrian sentence or spinning a boring story.”

Hill says the reason he took so long to finish the book is that he didn’t know what he was doing and didn’t know what the ending would be.

“I just lived with these characters for a very, very long time and the more I wrote, the cleared their story became,” says Hill, who grew up in Streamwood, teaches at a college in Florida and now spends summers in Chicago where his wife, a classical musician, plays for the Grand Park Symphony.

“One of the nice things about writing this book besides getting to know the characters so well, was spending long, long afternoons in the Chicago History Museum wearing white gloves and looking at old photos,” says Hill who is 50 pages into his next novel—a plus for those who love The Nix as it means they might not have to wait eight years to see it on the bookshelf.

Ifyougo:

What: Nathan Hill Book signing
When: September 15 at 7pm

Where: The Book Cellar, 4736-38 N Lincoln Ave Chicago, IL

Cost: Free

FYI: (773) 293-2665; words@bookcellarinc.com

 

 

 

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