Well, calls for Jockbrarian's long awaited Best Nonfiction Sports Books for Young Adults of 2017 are hitting fever pitch. Parents are refusing to leave Barnes and Noble until I give them some hot leads for book ideas for their teen sports lovers, and librarians are wondering what impactful 2017 sports titles they need to have on their wish lists. After careful studying, informal polling, and monitoring facial reactions, I have come up with a list of some 2017 (or late December 2016) books that I think are brilliant for any teenage sports fan. If your child enjoys sports and doesn't necessarily like reading, these books are certified by me, Jockbrarian, which should be good for at least something.
The following books I have for you are a mix of every facet of sports and life. They are more than just stories of athletic achievement, they are stories of survival; they are stories of truly heroic athletes who have succeeded not only on the courts and fields, but in the game of life. These books should be added in every youth and adult library collection; they should be on the shelves at home. While they represent only some of the great sports writing that has come out this year, the titles will serve sports fans well and allow them to dig deeper into the lives of some amazing people. Books in the slideshow are linked to Amazon for you to look at--and they are in no particular order!
Enjoy, and Merry Christmas!!
Athletes and performers sometimes view a gig in Wisconsin as a sentence. Most people hate winter. We're not really on the glitzy beaten paths of entertainers--so visitors can be rare. But by God, we do have the Green Bay Packers and Lambeau Field--and we are pretty damn nice people to boot! So when author Andrew Maraniss emailed me and said that he could incorporate a Germantown school visit into his trip to the Frozen Tundra, I jumped at the chance. Maraniss is the author of the book Strong Inside, a biography about Perry Wallace. (here's a link to my review) The fact that Andrew and I had a great common connection in high interest nonfiction sports literature was huge. But the fact that Andrew spoke the language that links all true Wisconsinites together--Packers, Badgers, Bucks, Brewers, and Brats--made him a slam dunk around here.
So on Monday, December 4th, Maraniss stopped by Germantown High School for what would become a memorable visit. The first session I had set up with Andrew was a session with AP Seminar and AP US History students. The AP Seminar students, mostly juniors and seniors, have been working through social justice themes, and are ultimately charged with crafting their own research questions and conducting an in-depth investigation into their subjects. For this group, the focus of the presentation was "Writing for Justice," where Maraniss discussed not only his book, but drew from his articles from The Undefeated. Very specific to this reading was Andrew's piece on Frank Dowsing.
The powerful message of Andrew's talk was that writing DOES matter, and that locating and researching these hidden figures can spark justice. Two things recently happened that I think truly drove this point home for the students. First, Perry Wallace passed away on December 1. The outpouring of tributes and discussion on social media about his death and the nods to the positive impact his story had on society was proof that Andrew's writing had made a profound impact on achieving a measure of justice. The second thing was the recognition of Frank Dowsing by Mississippi State at the Egg Bowl on November 23 for being the first black football player at the school. Maraniss credits at least some of this recognition to his story about Dowsing that had appeared a couple of months prior. Again, to the students, it was valuable evidence that writing matters. It affirmed to them that being a bystander only enforces the status quo, and that by being an "upstander" they can advance justice for those unfairly treated by society.
The next part of the day brought Andrew to Kennedy Middle School to speak with the 7th and 8th grade classes. I was really wondering what type of miracle worker Maraniss was to take on 2 groups of 400 kids! When I taught middle school for a couple of years, they said we were either saints or fools. Andrew was truly a saint. To see the passion and demeanor he had around those kids, and the conviction he had in sharing Perry's story with them was special. Again, the message of being an "upstander" was the focus. IN an age of bullying, and AT an age when bullying primarily happens and hurtful biases formed, it was essential that Andrew's message of not being a bystander when injustice occurs be heard. Through Perry's example, that message resonated in a big way with the kids.
A lasting image I have of the session is of a student approaching Andrew after the presentation saying he wanted to read the book. To find out later this was a student who never reads was even more remarkable. Ahh, the power of a story! As we left, I talked with Andrew about whether creating something that changes only one person's life is worth the effort. In teaching, they say that you need to focus on making an impact one student at a time. In the library, as I research and purchase books for my patrons, I consider this: If a book is only read by one person, but it profoundly impacts and changes their life, was it worth the money and effort? Yes, yes, and yes again. So, to Andrew (and all authors), I say again, never underestimate the value of your work no matter how many people end up buying the book. One life, one reader, is worth it.
Our final stop of the day was back at the high school to speak to the varsity basketball team. After seeing Andrew speak to the UW-Madison Badger basketball team last year about his book, I wanted our athletes to see how being and athlete and an "upstander" were synonymous. As a coach, I've always felt athletes had a certain responsibility to hold themselves to a higher standard. Obviously, this year has been rocky when it comes to athletes and social issues. While we are seeing more athletes not afraid to take a stand for social justice, which is great, we are seeing just as many fans telling them to basically "shut up and play," which is not. Andrew's point to the student athletes was that sitting idle is not an option. At UW, players Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig spoke out for their causes. Andrew stressed: What if Perry Wallace had said nothing? Sure, it took great courage to live through the injustice. But it took even more courage for him to stand up and say what was happening in society was not acceptable. Sometimes, athletes have to use whatever elevated platform they may have to voice opinions and shed light on injustice to a larger audience. Sometimes it may not be popular. Perry Wallace didn't view any of this as an option, he viewed it as an obligation. Maraniss used the life of Wallace to underline the obligation of athletes to be "upstanders" and stand up for themselves, their teammates, classmates, school and personal beliefs.
So, in a day when the death of Perry Wallace was fresh in the mind and heavy on the heart of his biographer Andrew Maraniss, the message of being an "upstander" was carried on through spoken word. Maraniss told the students that he was there talking to them because he knew that Perry would want it that way. There was no room for mourning on this day, with a message of justice and hero named Perry Wallace. Luckily, generations will always have a copy of Strong Inside as a reminder of these messages. Thanks, Andrew, for an amazing day!
Most people think that it's always the librarian suggesting the book to the students. Nothing could be further from the truth. Any librarian worth the books they shelve knows that true gem titles and authors are often found right in the hands of the students. Such was the case last week when I was approached by a wonderful sophomore girl who said she didn't really dig sports books, but knew I did, and thought I might like this guy named Josh Sundquist.
I had never heard of him. But she was so passionate about him, I couldn't help but be moved. I asked her to bring in her personal titles of his, and I did some research myself in the meantime. Am I ever glad I did, because sometimes, you never know what you're missing!
Josh Sundquist is truly an inspiring character, and for that I have chosen him for my Thanksgiving week post. Josh's bio reads that
"At age nine Josh Sundquist was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer and given a fifty percent chance to live. He spent a year on chemotherapy treatments and his left leg was amputated. Doctors declared Josh cured of the disease at age thirteen and he took up ski racing three years later. He trained for the next six years and in 2006 he was named to the US Paralympic Ski Team for the 2006 Paralympics in Turino, Italy."
While Just Don't Fall is mainly the telling of his life story, Josh also has two other titles. We Should Hang Out Sometime is another memoir filled with coming of age anecdotes, and Love and First Sight is a work of coming of age fiction. Both are filled with the same introspective humor and observations of living a life with a disability. All of Josh's works are not only thoughtful, but hopeful.
Sports is full of heroes who have overcome disabilities or other personal obstacles. Frankly, it's all part of what makes sports stories so endearing. There's just something about athletes that gives them tools to take lemons and make lemonade. Josh's story is compelling because he obviously has not let physical barriers impede his quest to live a full life. After the amputation, Josh chooses to not only live life to the fullest, but push the envelope. He takes up downhill skiing, which I can attest is hard enough to do with 2 good legs. Within 6 years, he's on the US Paralympic Ski team!
When I talked to Jessica about what made the book about Josh so special to her, it had nothing to do with sports. She talked about his courage, his sense of humor when dealing with his disability, his perseverance, his hipness (she showed me his cool youtube videos), his honesty, and his ability to motivate. He could've been a hang glider for all she cared.
The mark of a good book is to see the "stars" in the reader's eyes when you talk to them about the book. It's not just knowing the details, it's knowing the meaning. It's not just knowing the accomplishments, it's understanding the struggle to achieve them. It's not just that the completed book becomes a memory, it is that there is a motivation to carry the message forward.
Josh's books succeed because they inspire. I am getting all of them for my high school library, and everyone else should as well. When I get a teen coming up to me with a must-read recommendation, there's something that's clearly working! Josh undoubtedly has a great story, and a voice that speaks to teens, which is truly something to be thankful for. Live life to the fullest, be thankful for what you DO have, and don't be afraid to laugh at yourself a little. Not bad advice for any teen(or middle aged librarian)! Happy Thanksgiving!
Why run? I'd be a rich man if I got a buck for every time someone asked me that question, and I'd be richer if I could supply an answer. But I don't want to. Truth be told, running is one of the most deeply personal experiences on this earth. It is spiritual in nature, and for that reason, every one who runs has their own unique reasons and motivations for doing so.
I just finished the book Running With Raven by Laura Lee Huttenbach. This book pays great homage to a man who started running to take control of his life back in 1975, and has literally not skipped a day since! Is he obsessive? Sure--find me a runner who isn't! I'd run during a hurricane, too! But if you are stuck on how crazy his streak is, you are missing the motivation. Robert "Raven" Kraft runs because it makes him feel alive. He draws in the thousands of people who have followed his daily pilgrimage of 8 miles on the Miami beaches because they are game for the quest. From all walks of life, from all levels of society, he is joined on his run by those seeking hope, redemption, or a simple sense of belonging. Along with the fascinating life of Raven, we get to know a unique cast of characters who join Raven on his 8 mile daily trek. He gives them all unique names, which only adds to the spirit of being a member of this ragged posse! In other words, what he has created is a "community" of runners.
No doubt I loved every minute of the book. Huttenbach does a great job telling Raven's story and doing justice to his humble intentions. This book should be in every library, and especially a high school library. I know on my high school running teams, the feeling of being part of some secret cult of madmen who run miles for the hell of it is a badge of honor. Aren't all high school kids longing to belong in some circle of social existence, anyways? Young runners and weekend warriors alike will find Raven inspiring. Like any good sports story, it will reinforce to readers that running is bigger than the act itself. It will reinforce the idea that everyone has life stories to tell, and there is no better venue for kinship and conversation than a good 8 mile run! I promise this book will make it quickly through your running crew if you pass a copy around.
One of the high school runners I coach is hobbling through her second 1000 meter interval. Tears are streaming down her red cheeks as she struggles. I pull her off and give some words of encouragement. We talk about her painful knee. She goes to the trainer, we develop a plan to get her well, and she's back racing happily in a week.
Another girl strides effortless through the park, clipping target times in intervals with ease. She finishes, I give her encouragement--tell her she looks fantastic. Little do I know this girl is hobbling inside. Overwhelmed by the stress of keeping her top spot on the team, the load of 5 AP classes, and the fear of gaining weight and growing hips that will slow her down in the future, she suffers from depression. In a constant state of worry about disappointing herself, her parents, friends, coaches, and whomever else is spectating her life, she is consumed by a race she fears she'll never win.
Mental issues are often the most invisible injuries in sports.
I've coached both boys and girls prep running teams for the past 25 years. Each sex has their own unique challenges in regards to running, but in working with female teams, I have found their paths to be most taxing. Most female runners are highly intelligent, highly driven, and emotional. With brains wired to not just succeed, but succeed on the highest level, these girls are satisfied with little that dips below the line of perfection. One may think it's a blessing to be so driven, but in many female runners, it's a wicked curse. In a sport where girls are constantly measured by fitness and the tic of a clock, female runners are highly critical (and judged) not only of their improvement curve, but the curve of their own bodies. I know, I have daughters who run.
When Kate Fagan came out with her book What Made Maddy Run: The Secret Struggles and Tragic Death of an All-American Teen this summer, I was encouraged that someone was addressing the mental issues of a female runner. The "All-American" label of a young female runner is in itself often a curse. Nothing conjures up images of perfection, both in looks and performance, than being labeled an "All-American girl." It spawns a self imposed pressure to live up to this lofty ideal, which often leads to depression when things begin to not work out. Oh, and did I mention the jealousy that rears it's head on social media by those critiquing teen peers who love to see the perfect fail?
The beauty of high interest nonfiction books is they have the ability to connect with readers through highly intimate stories of another's personal personal struggle. Fagan does just that as she writes about Madison Holleran, a picture perfect girl on the outside with looks, friends, talent, and opportunity abound. On the inside, she is a mess. Struggling with depression that stems mainly from a self-imposed and societal set of standards that are nearly impossible to perfect, she takes her life.
Fagan's book is a "must-have" for every high school in the country. It's just that important. While you are at it, buy Amanda Beard's memoir called In the Water They Can't See You Cry. If there is any wish for me as a coach, parent, and librarian, it's that a quietly struggling female athlete will cross paths with Maddy's story, pick it up, and find some guidance from Maddy's spirit. Or maybe a parent will pick up this book and recognize some ever subtle signs from their daughter. Books CAN save lives, and this one fits that category. It just may spark the honest conversation that a female runner needs to have with herself about the issues she may never outrun.
I wanted to save one of my favorite reads over the summer for today. As a nice starting out point for the blog this school year and a quiet way to reflect on such a tragic day in history, I want to recommend The Red Bandanna by Tom Rinaldi. The 2016 book is highly appropriate for September 11, as it is the story of Welles Crowther, a young man of huge heart and epic courage, who ran back up the stairs of the burning World Trade Center tower instead of down to safety. A man only recognized by his trademark red bandanna, who ushered injured people to safety while thinking nothing of the consequences of remaining in the soon to collapse tower. The book relives that tragic morning, the impact Welles had on people when he was alive, and the legacy he leaves behind.
You may ask what this has to do with sports. Welles Crowther was an athlete. He was an undersized underdog who overcame whatever he lacked physically with heart. At the end of the day, he willed himself to become a college football player at Boston College. As a coach, these are the guys I love to have on my team. I have worked with plenty of talented athletes who lacked passion and flamed out, wasting whatever God given talent they were gifted on being mediocre. Most were, not coincidentally, selfish in life. Then there are the kids like Welles, who harness their passion to overcome physical deficiencies and rise above those with greater potential. They are driven by life-they are winners. Not coincidentally, they are selfless. These are also the kinds of guys, like Welles, that are willing to stay in burning buildings to help others out--putting their own safety far down the list of priorities. They face danger, not run from it, because it's in their DNA.
Sadly, Not many of the kids we have in high school today remember 9/11. It's a thought; a remembrance on morning announcements each September 11. It may be a fascinating episode on The History Channel, or a story told by mom or dad, but these 16 year old's were just literally opening their eyes to the world that year.
This is why we must get books like The Red Bandanna in the hands of high school kids. These heroic stories must be kept alive and passed to new generations. I have decided at the beginning of each school year, I am going to give a copy of The Red Bandanna to a young athlete to read. This student will speak to an athletic team on 9/11 about Welles and how he exemplified courage, heroism, and heart--not only in athletics, but in life. Welles story is a great reminder to kids that they are both responsible to themselves in their actions, and responsible to society each day.
Nothing beats the optimism of summer break! A chance for kids to relax, unwind, and not touch a school related skill for a solid 3 months! Tis the season for the sports nuts(parents and kids) to parade through youth sport camps, swing the bat every day, shuttle off to AAU contests in exotic locales like Iowa, or throw some iron around to beef up for the upcoming fall seasons.
Imagine this, though.......What if we carved some time out of our busy schedules and promoted another skill; another activity to exercise an often neglected summer muscle. The mind!
It's always interesting to me that a parent will demand 500 shots a day in the driveway, but not have a fleeting thought about doing 20 pages a day of reading. Are the two not equals?? Here's an idea: Let's keep our kids motivated to read this summer, and if they are not motivated readers, why not use the opportunity of a few homeworkless months to introduce some fantastic books.
I'll make it easy for you.
What I have included here is a list of 10 amazing nonfiction sports books that have been popular in not only my school library this year, but in many youth libraries throughout the country. These books are timely, relevant, well written, meaningful, and engaging. They teach, inform, enlighten, and entertain. If you are a public librarian, put these out on a "sports summer reading" display. If you are a parent, buy these books and place them in strategically obvious spots around the house for your teen. Or, you can just suggest them.
Quite simply, let's make it a goal to get our young athletes reading over the summer. It doesn't matter if they are reading fantasy, mystery, or sappy love stories. But since sports is already in their vocabulary, here is a list of sports related books that are sure to keep them interested and engaged. Just maybe--just maybe.......you'll find them outside lounging comfortably up against the basketball hoop pole, legs propped up on the ball, enjoying a good book. Dream on!!!!!!!
Here's the list--in no particular order. As a side note, just because a book is a young readers edition does not make it too "kiddy, or cheesy." Quite the contrary, I have found these books make young readers feel like adults, and reluctant boy readers feel like they have tackled something significant. Enjoy!
Strong inside : Perry Wallace and the collision of race and sports in the South by Andrew Maraniss
Brief summary: Story of Perry Wallace, a talented student athlete, who becomes the first African-American basketball player in the SEC at Vanderbilt University during the tumultuous late 1960s
Why? Kids are shocked to discover what African-American college players like Perry Wallace had to endure to participate in a game they loved during the civil rights era down south. Often I hear from kids while reading, "Did this really happen?"
Who would it be best for? Specific young readers edition suitable for grades 4 and above. Maraniss also has an adult version of the book that would be great as a parent read-along.
The Playbook: 52 rules to aim, shoot, and score in this game called life by Kwame Alexander
Brief summary: Poetry and inspiring lessons about the rules of life, as well as uplifting quotes from popular athletes in this motivational and inspirational book.
Why? This is a nice little book that will provide lots of inspiration for the young athlete, opening many doors of conversation about the connections between sports and life.
Who would it be best for? Specifically for young readers probably middle school and early high school.
Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team by Steve Sheinkin
Brief summary: Football and Native American history come together in this true story of how Jim Thorpe and Pop Warner created the legendary Carlisle Indians football team.
Why? Kids were astounded to read about some real origins of the violent game of football, and, as one student put it, what a "beast" of an athlete Jim Thorpe was!
Who would it be best for? Specific Young readers edition suitable for grades 4 and above
Fire in my eyes : an American warrior's journey from being blinded on the battlefield to gold medal victory by Brad Snyder and Tom Sileo
Brief summary: Exactly one year after losing his sight in a blast while serving in Afghanistan, Snyder wins a gold medal in swimming at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London.
Why? Great story of courage and overcoming odds. Kids found Snyder's story extremely inspirational and unique. Stories of war heros are huge in high school. Combining war and sports is always a winner.
Who would it be best for? Adult format but very readable for grades 6 and up
Gunslinger : the remarkable, improbable, iconic life of Brett Favre by Jeff Pearlman
Brief summary: A biography of NFL quarterback and Green Bay Packer great Brett Favre, covering the life and football career of this colorful star
Why? Brett Favre was one of the most colorful and crazy characters ever to play the game. His true love for the game and freewheeling style had kids in awe. Everyone loves a rebel!
Who would it be best for? Adult format and lengthy--probably for the high school and above crowd
Coach Wooden and Me: Our 50-Year Friendship On and Off the Court by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Brief summary: Kareem shares stories and wisdom from his decades-long relationship with legendary UCLA coach John Wooden
Why? Are you kidding, a chance to peer into the minds and friendship of two legendary figures in basketball!! What's not to love!
Who would it be best for? Adult format --probably for the upper middle / high school and above crowd
Days of knight : how the general changed my life by Kirk Haston.
Brief summary: Kirk Haston discusses his time playing college basketball for Bobby Knight at Indiana University and the lessons he learned from "The General"
Why? Kids loved the lessons of Knight and his often unique (bizarre) methods of motivation! Haston is very engaging and easy to relate to as a player--the kind of guy you root for.
Who would it be best for? Adult format, but easily written with many sidebars and "Knightisms"-probably grade 6 and up
Rising above : how 11 athletes overcame challenges in their youth to become stars
Gregory Zuckerman with Elijah and Gabriel Zuckerman.
Brief summary: Athletes find discipline, hope, and inspiration on the playing field, rising above their challenging life circumstances--something many of our kids can relate to.
Why? What young athlete has not faced adversity yet? Whether injuries, home life, relationships, or disappointment have knocked on the door, this book shows any kid that there is hope.
Who would it be best for? For young readers probably grade 3/4 to early/mid high school.
Shoe dog : a memoir by the creator of Nike by Phil Knight
Brief summary: Nike founder and CEO Phil Knight shares his story of how Nike came to be the mega corporation it is today
Why? Every school kid relates to Nike! Many who have read this were fascinated by the back story of the company and how Knight created this giant. A story they never knew!
Who would it be best for? Adult format--probably for the upper middle/ high school and above crowd
Legends : the best players, games, and teams in basketball by Howard Bryant.
Brief summary: A fun discussion of the best hardwood heroes. From Magic Johnson to Michael Jordan to LeBron James to Steph Curry, the book is a great collection of NBA champions and superstars.
Why? This book has started some great argument among kids about numerous basketball related issues. Now....are the Warriors good or bad for NBA basketball??!!
Who would it be best for? Specifically for young readers probably grade 3/4 to early/mid high school.
A couple of years ago, my then 10 year old son was constructing a rather elaborate Christmas gift list. To my surprise, at the top of the list was a Kareem Abdul Jabbar jersey--signed, of course. My first few thoughts were: 1. How cool that a LeBron era kid would acknowledge an iconic player from long before his time! 2. All that TV watching of ESPN secondary channels is paying off! 2. I'm a librarian for Pete's sake--does he really think I make enough money to buy a signed Kareem jersey!?
So, I settled on a framed poster. Kareem(Lew Alcindor) in his Milwaukee Bucks uniform. Forget the Lakers era. My love of Kareem started with the coin flip in 1969, when the only hazard coinage posed in my life was choking. But I wanted my son to know Kareem the Buck, so it was important to me that he was donning green. Anyways, the poster came with a promise we would find Kareem someday and get it signed, but we're still getting around to that.
Anyways, it has been fun sharing with my son the story of Kareem. It's not just a story about who he was as a player, but who he's become in the era afterwards. After all, the measure of an athlete is not the highlight reel from the court, but the wake of influence that he leaves while flying into the sunset. It's amazing to me just how much of an influential author Jabbar has become. I truly don't think many people realize the catalog of books he has put out since his playing days. Known as a reclusive figure in his Buck days, I'm not sure the Milwaukee crowd has a fair grasp as to just what a champion of the human spirit this man has become.
My most anticipated book of the year has been his latest book, Coach Wooden and Me: Our 50-Year Friendship On and Off the Court. Just released a week or so ago, the book details the intersection of two basketball legends, Coach John Wooden of UCLA and Kareem. Those of us who have read Coach Wooden's They Call Me Coach or The Pyramid of Success know of his unique ability to mentor basketball players not only in the game, but in life. Jabbar opens the curtains into his playing days at UCLA and his successful life afterwards and let's us see just how much influence the brilliant John Wooden had on him. It's a book of basketball, coaching, mentoring, philosophy and respect sewn into one. One thing is clear, we cannot grow into the people we wish to become without powerful mentors in our life. I'm sure Jabbar appreciates Wooden as a great sage and hand who graced his life, and whose spirit will continue to nudge him to greatness.
It's noble to hand a book like this to any teenager. It needs to be in every high school library. At a time when teens need to know that mentors are real and people can still be trusted in this world, Jabbar shows them that wisdom is found in relationships. Just because Jabbar and Wooden are not as freshly present in the memory of kids like LeBron or Coach K doesn't make their story any less important. There is no truth that wisdom ever ages out of style.
I want my son to appreciate Coach W, Kareem and their relationship, and the power of positive people in life. He will read the book with me this summer, and just maybe Santa will be watching so next Christmas he doesn't forget to load that signed jersey on the sleigh!
Moncrief. Cummings. Nelly. Hodges. MECCA. There never was such a beautiful time for basketball in my life. As a teenager, I basked in the glory of my Milwaukee Bucks, who as Hodges wisely noted, were one of the top NBA teams of the 80's. Every kid in Wisconsin emulated those teams. On the battered hoop hanging from my garage, we would drive to the hole in the classic Sidney Moncrief two handed, what we'd call "old-man" approach. We'd shoot short range "pancake" jumpers emulating that odd but effective Terry Cummings shooting stroke. And of course, we'd migrate to the outer reaches of the court-in my case, the sideyard lawn and my mom's prized flower beds, to shoot jumpers like Craig Hodges. We'd rise up mimicking Hodges textbook high-forehead pre-release ball carriage and loft bombs from beyond the arc, in a day when the NBA 3 point line seemed like half-court. Not since Brian Winters had I loved such a shooter!
I had forgotten about Craig Hodges. My teenage years are long in the rear view mirror, and the post 80's Bucks have been a revolving door of mediocrity. When I saw Hodges was coming out with a book, I was surprised to say the least. What was it about--shooting? Hodges wasn't Bird, or Magic, or Dr. J. He didn't have those credentials, so why would he put out a book?
In your teenage years, you fall into the trap of only seeing the player--not the man. Stats are king, image is everything. Happily, as I discovered in his new book Long Shot: The Triumphs and Struggles of an NBA Freedom Fighter, there was much to learn about Craig Hodges--and much to appreciate.
You can't emulate activism in the driveway, and what fan has time to notice a player fighting for rights when there's a 7 game series with the Celtics to worry about. Hodges takes the reader through his life--from his start in Chicago, to his college days in California at Long Beach State, and through his pro career and beyond. Hodges highlights not only his rise as an exceptionally talented basketball player, but his mission as an activist for the rights of players and African Americans. He also spends time weaving in the importance of family and other role models in his life. One of Hodges best known moments was during the 1992 Chicago Bulls NBA title visit to the White House, he delivered a handwritten letter to President George H. W. Bush demanding that he do more to address racism and economic inequality. I was personally fascinated by the chapters about his time in Milwaukee, which ended in an odd trade to the Phoenix Suns. Discovering the truth that the Bucks traded him because they did not like his outspoken activism was a shock to me. In a way it was this type of outspokenness that most likely cost Hodges the recognition he deserved during his time in the NBA.
As many athletes have discovered, speaking out comes at a cost. But guys like Hodges have paved the way. The Andrew Maraniss telling of Perry Wallace as the first Black basketball player in the SEC in his book Strong Inside is another recent book that addresses heroic examples of athletes fighting for justice in society. Spawning from this(hopefully), is a vein of athletes who are not simply content to skate by on their athletic resumes. They know there is a higher calling in the world, and perhaps they have a bigger pulpit than us everyday joe's to call attention to injustice.
Hodges book is extremely readable. At times it seems like a cool conversation he is having with the reader around a kitchen table. Hodges is a very honest narrator. There is not a preachy tone to the book, but rather an undertone of awareness and curiosity that Hodges breathes throughout his life. In this manner, I feel it would play extremely well with teens. I have faith that there are many young teenage athletes out there who are curious about what's going on in the world. They have no time for someone bullying them into activism. What Hodges urges in his book is for kids to be naturally curious about their world, and if there are things that they feel are wrong or unfair, don't be afraid to take a stand. Hodges came to these understandings through his heart. He wrote letters, he petitioned, and talked to authority figures. He showed the same tenacity with the rock as he did his rights.
I don't think kids will recall Craig Hodges. He's not Jordan or Bird. But that shouldn't stop any school or YA librarian from buying this book. Kids will quickly discover Hodges as an example of an athlete standing up fairness, equality and a better society, which is a lesson every kid could benefit from. I miss you Craig!