To outsiders, football may look like bone-crushing mayhem. The headlines coming out of the NFL center around concussions and bullying.
During this heated time for the sport, journalist Nicholas Dawidoff spent a year embedded with the New York Jets. He got a rare, inside look at life inside the team, which he documented in the new book “Collision Low Crossers: A Year Inside the Turbulent World of NFL Football”(Little, Brown and Company/2013).
As a writer within a group of athletes, he earned himself the nickname “Bookworm” amongst members of the team.
“They immediately shortened it to ‘Worm.’ Nobody wants to be called ‘Worm,’” said Dawidoff.
This nickname gave Dawidoff insight into how potentially damaging bullying could be within a football team, as it has been for the Miami Dolphins.
Dawidoff continued, “I could see how something that was an annoyance to me could casually devolve for someone else into something really complicated and hurtful.”
Dawidoff also addressed concussions. The debate over the long-term health effects of concussions in football has become a national controversy. Concussions have been allegedly linked to depression and even suicide among football players.
Though the media has been handwringing about concussions, according to Dawidhoff, players almost never discussed it.
“Nobody talked about it unless I brought it up. And the reason nobody talked about it is because, when you get on a football field, they call it the switch. Once you turn that switch on, you have to be prepared to do something risky and very dangerous, “said Dawidoff.
He continued, “So by and large, you’re not going to be successful at football if you think you’ll get a concussion. So they don’t talk about it.”
According to Dawidoff, many athletes are attracted to the sport for reasons beyond fame, money, or even love of the game. They are driven by a more personal impulse.
“A large segment of football players come from difficult backgrounds. This involves many single parent families. Some of the players are orphans. Many of them grew up in serious poverty,” Dawidoff said.
“And they say that they get from football things they didn’t have in their childhood… The greatest pleasure for them is in the camaraderie, but also in the ability to have surrogate brothers, surrogate uncles,” he continued.