Happy Football Season! Well, it doesn’t really feel like the season at all with curtailed seasons under the COVID pandemic. Yet, it is still the start of Autumn and with that, if you are in America, football is called to mind. I guess it may be the season that has me so intrigued by Jacqueline Woodson’s latest book Before the Ever After.
It’s a novel about a boy and his father, but not just any father. ZJ has a football star for a Dad. He is beloved by the kids in the neighborhood and to many millions more. He is an athletic star. Life is good and glorious — until it is not. The book moves into exploring his Dad’s CTE diagnosis when he stops remembering and starts forgetting their lives.
It’s an interesting topic to take on quite frankly. In America, we hold up our athletes as invincible heroes on and off the playing field. Most of us know, by now, how dangerous playing football is to the health of the players, but no one is around when their health declines. We are around to watch them play. Yes, even though we know they are risking their health and lives, we show up and watch them play week in and week out.
Once their glory days have passed, we often hear a news headline that somebody or other that we once cheered for with all of our hearts is now ill with a diagnosis like CTE. We feel bad, but our attention has flitted to the next great athlete on the field. This is why I think this book is edgy, as it takes you into the life of the family that has to deal with their glory days being over and how it is to live with someone so crippled by memory issues. All of a sudden it’s not the glory days the family yearns for, but the person who made those days up.
For our society that worships sports stars without a care toward their future ill health, this is a great book to begin to extend our understanding and empathy toward the consequences of these games we so cherish. This is a perfect book to give your middle school child and a great one to read together. There is a lesson from ZJ and his Father for all of us.