Ted Kluck has lived the sporting life, both inside the arena, as a professional indoor football player and high-school football coach, and out, as a biographer of athletes such as Jeremy Lin and Robert Griffin III. Here, he recommends 5 books on the overlapping terrain of football and faith.
The Courting of Marcus Dupree, by Willie Morris
Morris, onetime editor in chief of Harper’s magazine, was a novelist and memoirist who wrote beautifully about things that weren’t football. When he chose to write about football, the result was this stunner of a story, about a stud high-school running back from small-town Mississippi. Race, poverty, recruiting ethics, education, and religion intersect in the Deep South as they do in this book, a perfect example of what creative nonfiction should aspire to.
Competition, by Gary Warner
If you grew up in the 1970s and ’80s, you might remember all the prosperity-addled Christian sports dreck (“trust God, and all your dreams will come true!”). This is what we should have been reading instead. Full of honesty and truth, Competition helped me navigate conflicted feelings about sports: I wondered why I wasn’t having more fun, and when God would answer my selfish prayers for a “platform” for sharing my faith. Warner taught me that glorifying God through sports is less about winning than about personal growth and refinement.
The Boz, by Brian Bosworth and Rick Reilly
Brian Bosworth (“the Boz”) played linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks during the 1980s. One of the first anti-hero athletes obsessed with cultivating a distinct “brand” (nowadays, they’re a dime a dozen), he wrote this book during a period of deep excess and idiocy. That said, the book is very funny. Read it in conjunction with ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary on Bosworth, and you get a picture of a broken, contrite man seeking redemption and forgiveness.
Friday Night Lights, by H. G. Bissinger
This is a rare case where the (2004) film actually does justice to the (1990) book, which chronicles the season-long championship chase of a Texas high-school football powerhouse. Bissinger’s depiction of this crazed culture of football idolatry is chilling in its accuracy. As a player, coach, and parent, I’ve lived it. The language and storylines are rough—so be forewarned—but never sensationalized. The kids, their coaches, and their parents are the real deal. Friday Night Lights shows the carnage that results when we let an idol rule our hearts.
One More July, by George Plimpton and Bill Curry
I’m a huge George Plimpton fan, thanks to my dad buying me Paper Lion (a non-athlete’s account of trying out for Detroit’s football team) in middle school. Like Willie Morris, Plimpton had a literary background but occasionally wrote transcendent football commentary. For One More July, Plimpton rode cross-country with Curry to his final training camp. The longtime offensive lineman was grappling with his faith, the violence of professional football, and the fact that he sometimes enjoyed the violence. Curry would later become a thoughtful and successful coach—a credit to the game.
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