Sunday, February 16, 2020

Books: The Latest In The Edge Of Sports Series From Brooklyn's Akashic Books

Akashic Books, which is located right here in Brooklyn, created the Edge of Sports series to highlight stories that might get overlooked and show a different side of the games we love. Don McPherson, an all-American quarterback at Syracuse, wrote You Throw Like a Girl to examines how masculinity is defined and its impact, and Ryan O'Callaghan, who played right tackle in the NFL for six seasons, writes in My Life On The Line about keeping his sexuality a secret and his battles with drug use.

You Throw Like a Girl: The Blind Spot of Masculinity
By Don McPherson
Edge of Sports, an imprint of Akashic Books; 256 pages; hardcover, $28.95; paperback, $15.95; E-book, $15.99

Don McPherson, an All-American quarterback at Syracuse who went on to play professionally in the NFL and Canada, began his work on gender-based violence prevention in 1994 at Northeastern University's Center for the Study of Sport in Society. He has served on the boards of the Ms. Foundation for Women, the NCAA Sexual Assault Task Force, and the NCAA Board of Governors Commission to Combat Campus Sexual Violence.

In You Throw Like a Girl, McPherson examines how the narrow definition of masculinity adversely impacts women and creates many "blind spots" that hinder the healthy development of men. Dissecting the strict set of beliefs  and behaviors that underpin our understanding of masculinity, he contends that we don't raise boys to be men, but are raised to not be women.

McPherson uses examples from his own life, including his storied football career, to passionately argue that viewing violence against women as a "women's issue" not just ignores men's culpability but conflates the toxicity of men's violence with being male. He takes the reader beyond the blind spots and toward solutions, analyzing how men can be engaged in a sustained dialogue, with a new set of terms that can be aspirational and more accurately represent the emotional wholeness of men.

Editor Dave Zirin said, "Working with Don McPherson was something that I wanted to do from the moment we started the Edge of Sports Books imprint. It wasn't just his football history or my childhood Syracuse fandom that made me want to produce a book with the former All-American. It was because of the unique place I saw him carve out for himself in the world of feminist politics.

"Over the years I watched as McPherson became a voice speaking to other athletes and other men about the importance and centrality of trying to reduce men's violence against women. I saw him enter spaces and speak to audiences that many others could not reach and use his own history as a weapon against toxic expressions of masculinity. There is not another man in the sports world who can come close to amassing the body of work and the activism on this front."

My Life On The Line: How The NFL Damn Near Killed Me And Ended Up Saving My Life
By Ryan O'Callaghan, with Cyd Zeigler
Edge of Sports, an imprint of Akashic Books; 288 pages; hardcover, $28.95; paperback, $15.95; E-book, $15.99

Ryan O'Callaghan played right tackle in the NFL for six seasons, with the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs. In college, he played for the California Golden Bears, whom he helped win two bowl games and was named the 2005 Morris Trophy winner as the Pac-10's best offensive lineman. O'Callaghan is the creator of a foundation designed to provide scholarships for out LGBTQ athletes. 

O'Callaghan's plan was always to play football and then, when his career was over, kill himself. Growing up in a politically conservative enclave of California, the not-so-subtle messages he heard as a young man from his family and from TV and film routinely equated being gay with disease and death. Letting people in on the darkest secret he kept buried inside was not an option. 

As a kid, Ryan never envisioned how far football would take him. Bubbling under the surface of his entire NFL career was a collision course between his secret sexuality and his hidden drug use. When the league caught him smoking pot, he turned to NFL-sanctioned prescription painkillers that quickly sent his life into a tailspin. As injuries mounted and his daily intake of opioids reached a near-lethal level, he wrote his suicide note to his parents and plotted his death.

Luckily, someone was watching over him. A member of the Chiefs organization stepped in, recognizing the signs of drug addiction. Ryan reluctantly sought psychological help, and it was there that he revealed his lifelong secret for the very first time. As he neared the end of his career, he faced the ultimate decision: end it all, or find out if his family and football friends could ever accept a gay man in their lives.

O'Callaghan writes in an author's statement, "I remember the loneliness. Nights buried in my bottles of whiskey and Vicodin. I remember being convinced that all anyone would want me to do if they knew the real me was end my life. I was in the middle of a dark, inescapable depression the likes of which people of all walks of life go through. For me that loneliness was born in my sexual orientation and given fuel for my growing addiction to painkillers and other drugs.

"Yet I was one of the lucky ones. A small group of people saved me before I ended it all. What I found is that the people in my life - my family, my friends, my NFL teammates - they all loved and supported me, the real me, more than I ever could have imagined. I had lived my life ignoring their messages of love and support, refusing to love myself the whole time.

"Writing this book has been the culmination of everything I have lived in the hopes that other people will find this truth in their own lives: the people around them love them for who they truly are far more than they can see. I hope to open the eyes of those suffering with depression, and the people in a position to recognize those around them who need help. No one is alone, even though so many of us feel alone today.

"I remember the loneliness like I remember my name. But I'm not alone today. If sharing my story can comfort one person, give one person hope for a brighter future, then everything I suffered through was worth it."

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