league of denial

Last summer, I listened to the excellent audiobook version of League of Denial by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru. With football season upon us, I thought it would be a good time to take a look back at this one. Edited from Goodreads:

“Professional football players do not sustain frequent repetitive blows to the brain on a regular basis.”

So concluded the National Football League in a December 2005 scientific paper on concussions in America’s most popular sport. That judgment, implausible even to a casual fan, also contradicted the opinion of a growing cadre of neuroscientists who worked in vain to convince the NFL that it was facing a deadly new scourge: a chronic brain disease that was driving an alarming number of players—including some of the all-time greats—to madness.

League of Denial reveals how the NFL, over a period of nearly two decades, sought to cover up and deny mounting evidence of the connection between football and brain damage.

If you read my little slice of the internet here, you know I’m a rabid Green Bay Packers fan. My mother grew up in De Pere, in a house just a mile from Vince Lombardi’s house. Lombardi frequented my grandparents’ church. My grandparents went on dates to games. We have coveted, hard-to-get season tickets. As a fan, as someone who cares and is curious, I decided to read League of Denial. I already knew there are health consequences to playing contact sports, but I had no idea just how disturbingly deep the CTE controversy goes in the NFL.

League of Denial exposes the fraud of “safety” in football, from the physically violent way the game is played to attempting to solve the CTE issue with advances in helmet construction and technology, from medical teams to owners to the highest levels of administration. It was just like how Big Tobacco convinced everyone for the longest time that smoking cigarettes was safe. There’s no helmet that can keep the brain from experiencing trauma and damage inside the skull when a player is hit, whether it’s football, baseball, boxing, or anything else.

The amount of research and countless interviews that went into League of Denial is staggering. I know Brett Favre is concerned and vocal about his own future health regarding CTE, and the distressing experiences of football greats like Troy Aikman and Dan Marino in this book really bring home CTE’s seriousness, as well as the NFL’s denial and inaction. The most disquieting story, though, is the life and tragic downward spiral of four-time Super Bowl champion Mike Webster. He was from Wisconsin, where he grew up on a farm, rooted for the Packers, and was a center for the Badgers in college at UW-Madison. It’s a very typical Wisconsin upbringing that hits close to home for me.

This is a compulsively readable book. The only downside of the audio is I’m sure I missed out on a photo section on paper. I haven’t been able to denounce and boycott the game, primarily because the Packers are such a huge part of my homestate’s culture and my family’s bond and history. But I’m paying closer attention for sure to this issue and how the NFL handles it going forward. As a sports fan, and particularly a football fan—one with a conscious—I’m glad I read this informative book. It serves as a warning for exactly how more and more rampant CTE will become each year, and makes the reader question why we as a society are so obsessed with a sport that mimics war and glorifies violence.

Listened to audiobook in July 2016.

summer 2017 in wisconsin

I just finished a five-week visit back home to Wisconsin, and it may have been the best summer I’ve had… ever? I had more fun than a person should be allowed to have. I didn’t want it to end!
Early in the trip Nick and I spent a weekend in Chicago, where we had burgers at the metal-themed Kuma’s Corner with a cousin of mine and his girlfriend. After that, we stopped by Chicago Music Exchange to drool over all the amazing guitars, and later had cocktails at Reno where another cousin of mine works, to say hi to her. The next day, we brought our nephew to the Shedd Aquarium. He loved the sharks best! And of course we had to have Lou Malnati’s deep dish pizza while we were there. I also hung out in Chicago later, the day before I flew back to Singapore, visiting the American Writers Museum and Museum of Contemporary Art, which had an amazing Takashi Murakami exhibit, The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg.

It’s really, really hard to beat summer in Wisconsin, specifically Madison. I’m honestly not sure there’s anything better. (I realize I’m completely biased!) I don’t think I was bored for even one minute. I went for a hike around Devil’s Lake, something I haven’t done in years, as well as biked around Madison a lot, including the Monona Lake Loop twice. I played my own bass again; I missed it so much!! I spent a bunch of time on State Street and at the UW Memorial Union Terrace, went to the Dane County Farmer’s Markets and Concerts on the Square, and had a great time reconnecting with high school and best childhood friends. Not to mention enjoying all the Wisconsin food I’ve missed terribly—cheese curds, fish fry, dumplings and sauerkraut, ice cream, brats, the beer!! The gloriously cheap local craft beer. Sigh.

My dad retired the last day of June, and I was so happy to be there for him. His coworkers pulled out all the stops, throwing a big party and making special shirts, “baseball cards” with my dad’s “career stats,” a huge poster with all his signature workplace sayings, and a 10-minute farewell video that had my mother and me in tears. They gifted him a very nice new bike and two sunburst chairs you see at the UW Terrace. It’s just heartwarming to see someone you love so appreciated and loved by others.

Another highlight of my trip was framing and delivering three of my drawings to their new owners, my cousin, nephew, and niece. I’ll write another post about my drawings soon, but it was a pleasure to pick out a spot in my nephew’s bedroom for his transformer drawing, and my niece lit up when she saw the horse drawing, even “petting” it and giving it a kiss on the nose. D’aww. 

My best friend Lee and his husband Thomas came to see me in Madison, and they were a sight for sore eyes! We did all sorts of classic Madison stuff, including checking out the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, having a boot at the Essen Haus, and making a little trip down to the New Glarus Brewery, which is something I’ve wanted to do forever!

Two of the best weekends I had back home were in Green Bay and Antigo, for my family reunions. In Green Bay, I went to the Packers Hall of Fame and took the Lambeau Field tour, which I had done before but the HoF was all updated and redone—it’s incredible. I could do a whole post alone on Lambeau Field. Also in Green Bay, I visited the farm one of my cousins manages, and of course went to my mom’s side’s family reunion. I talked to extended family I hadn’t met and/or seen in a long time, and some great stories were shared. I hadn’t been to this side’s reunion in several years (I always had a gig in Kansas City the same weekend) so it was wonderful to finally make it this time.

My dad’s side’s family reunion is held at my grandparents’ farm just north of Antigo, which is a small city in the north-central part of the state. My dad’s immediate family (my dad and mom, his siblings and their spouses, my cousin and her son, and me) went to the farm a couple days early to enjoy some “us together” time and prep for the reunion. We biked around the country roads, went berry picking, had a fish fry, went swimming at Jack Lake, and of course held our reunion. This year’s theme was Disco (for the adults) and Toy Story (for the kids). I wore my new “Disco Demolition Night” shirt and played two songs on guitar for the skit show, ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” and my own original “Back to Antigo,” which I sing every year now. People go all out with costumes, we crown a new “Potato Queen,” and sometimes roast a family member. We always finish up the festivities with a softball game, bonfire, and fireworks.

I really needed to see my family and feel like I’m at home where I belong after all these months abroad. I just felt awake and alive, and I got a vital dose of love and attention that I’d been craving. Singapore is nice and I’m happy for the adventure, but it can be a little lonely for me here sometimes; I’m not used to being apart from family for so long. And besides, there’s no place else on Earth quite like Wisconsin. I already can’t wait to return.

top ten tuesday: favorite non-book websites

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, a fun way to get yourself thinking and sharing about books and bookish things.

January 20: FREEBIE

Hey everyone, today’s Top Ten Tuesday is a FREEBIE! I’ve chosen to list my top ten favorite non-book blogs/websites. In no particular order:

  • KCMetropolis.org … Kansas City’s online journal of the arts! (yes, I’m biased 🙂 )
  • The Nation … oldest weekly magazine in the US: politics, culture, society, etc.
  • Wonkette … ALL TEH POLITICAL SNARK!
  • Green Bay Packers … I bleed green & gold, life-long fan, no matter what!
  • Daily Kos … Liberal website with political analysis of current US events
  • Think Progress … progressive, independent American blog; politics, climate, etc.
  • Tom and Lorenzo … “fabulous & opinionated”—Love them!
  • Vox … all-purpose current events site: politics, science, world affairs, culture, etc.
  • Reductress … hilarious satirical women’s magazine
  • Thrillist … food and restaurant lists, city/state-specific

What are your favorite non-book sites online?

it’s monday! what are you reading?

It’s Monday, what are you reading?—a weekly blog meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Happy Monday, everyone! Today is my birthday, and I’m celebrating by watching the Green Bay Packers’s Monday Night Football game after work at my favorite restaurant here in Kansas City, McCoy’s. (Yes, I am wearing my Aaron Rodgers jersey at work today. Proudly!) My dad will actually BE at the game, which is so awesome! I wish I had been able to go up for this one! Anyway, it’ll be great to watch them WIN tonight, no matter where I am 🙂

I’m still working on The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe (just over halfway through), and I only have 5% left of the audio for The Girl with All the Gifts by M. R. Carey (certain I’ll finish it tomorrow night on my drive to rehearsal), so after these are done this week I’m going to go with Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. The Ng will be my 50th book of 2014!

What are you reading this week?

driven

The paper book I decided to bring along with me on my trip to Wisconsin last month was Driven: From Homeless to Hero, My Journeys On and Off Lambeau Field by Donald Driver. What else! I was in the mood for something light and uplifting, and I was heading home for a long weekend, so it was a perfect choice.

In Driven, Driver recounts his family’s struggles with poverty during his childhood, his drug-dealing adolescence, and his career in professional football, as well as his winning turn on Dancing with the Stars.

Who doesn’t love Donald Driver? He has consistently been a fan favorite for years, and is definitely one of my faves. He just has a bright, good-natured persona, and is bursting with charisma, which was upheld in this memoir. I didn’t really know much about his past, especially the extent to which his family suffered and his drug dealing and car stealing days. Driver’s a very fortunate person and it’s clear he doesn’t take it for granted, and it’s wonderful his tenacity and patience has paid off.

It was a real thrill to read about a player’s view of some Packers games that I remember watching or attending, and I was touched by Driver’s close friendship with Brett Favre. This book made me super excited for football season to start up again! Every fan of the Packers would love this memoir. I think it would also be fantastic to experience on audio, if Driver was the narrator of course, because it reads very conversationally, like he’s just hanging out with you telling you about his life.

While I really enjoyed it as a Packers fan, as a reader it has its share of flaws, mainly in the editing. I did find a tiny handful of spelling errors, and there was much repetition. Every time Favre is mentioned, it is reiterated that they were close friends, or that he was the quarterback. (Not verbatim, but you get the idea: “Packers quarterback Brett Favre, my close friend…” “My close friend Brett Favre (who was quarterback at the time) and I…”) This also happened with mentions of his wife Tina. I found the writing during the football chapters much more exciting and engaging than other chapters, not that the parts about his personal life and Dancing with the Stars weren’t interesting, they just didn’t go as deep (ha! get it… he’s a WR…#nerd) as the football writing.

An absolute recommend for Packers fans! Driver’s memoir is heartwarming and truly conveys how much he loves Green Bay, the game, the players, the community, and the fans. (I will admit to tearing up during his retirement ceremony, which I watched live online at my work desk. My boss walked in and was like, “What’s the matt— oh! You’re silly!” haha)

Read from July 8 to 17, 2014.