Book Review — The Blind Side by Michael Lewis
Early this morning I finished “The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game Audible”, written by Michael Lewis, an American author and financial journalist. The book was released in 2016.
In Blind Side, you are treated to the gift of storytelling by an accomplished storyteller about American football. You are taken on a ride as the writer immerses you in three themes: the evolution of American football, the mesmerizing recruiting system by and for the NFL, and the world of a kid who was not supposed to make it into the big league.
For someone who has never understood American Football and was in fact consciously uninterested in it because of the shine it takes away from the most popular sport in the world — soccer — so much so that while the rest of the world still knows it as football, Americans have been largely successful in making everyone accept the name ‘soccer’, Michael Lewis’ imagery made me spend several hours just watching that game. As he explained the arrival of Lawrence Taylor who changed the course of the game, I found myself understanding how important the work of the quarterback is, and why the person who protects the quarterback became the darling of the American football world. And of course, you learn about the mindblowing legendary coach Bill Walsh whose legacy continues in the sport today.
That is the genius of Michael Lewis. Holding the hands of someone with no experience and walking him through the complex world of running backs, wide receivers and left tackles. Lewis makes violence captivating. You shudder as you read the story of a random quarterback’s bones laying exposed on the field as just one of a sample of 1,534 routine injuries that have occurred between 1980 and 2001, and in the next breath find yourself looking forward to another part of the story where Lewis has kept you anticipating.
But most people will see it as the story of Michael Oher, and they would not be wrong. The boy with all the physical qualities of a prototypical Left Tackle which was made famous by the arrival of Lawrence Taylor in the 1980s. The problem for Michael is that he does not have the education that his talents needed to blossom. Just one of the thirteen children his mother had on her many escapades, he has no knowledge of his father nor does he know his birthday. Heck, he does not even know his own real name. Read and write? Michael does not know how. For a boy who wanted to be Michael Jordan, that’s just not going to work in America; while you need as minimum an education as possible, you need an education nonetheless.
By some stroke of luck, a dying mother’s wish for his grandson led him to a Christian school where a man begged the school to give Michael a chance as they accepted his son.
#WILT There were/are Christian schools in South Eastern United States where kids are not allowed enrolment unless both parents gave testimony of their experience of being Born Again. Sounds a lil Nigerian? LOL. Lewis did give some dramatic effects to this religiosity.
“Academically, Briarcrest might not be the most ambitious school. It spent more time and energy directing its students to Jesus Christ than to Harvard. But the students all went on to college.”
In this school, Black Michael saving grace came in the form of a rich, white, Evangelical family that adopted him. They nurtured, oh they nurtured, him. In this nurturing, you get a glimpse of the racial and socioeconomic divide in America. You understand why it’s easy for rich white well-connected upper-class families to get their kids out of trouble more often than not. A serious error of judgement that would have ruined Michael was taken care of with simple phone calls.
Yet you cannot discount the pathway of sports that America gives to poor black kids. You may not be academically sound but through sports black kids can escape penury and give back to society. That’s a path not available for blacks in a lot of places around the world.
But that’s not to say that Michael did not have qualities that predisposed him to greatness. His adopted father says that despite what happened to him before he was picked up and given a life, “Michael’s gift is that the Good Lord gave him the ability to forget. He’s mad at no one and doesn’t really care what happened. His story might be sad, but he’s not sad.”
For many days, I could not stop thinking about this passage written to describe this boy,
“Michael wasn’t stupid. He was ignorant, but a lot of people mistook ignorance for stupidity and knowingness for intelligence. He’d been denied the life experience that led to knowingness, which every other kid at Briarcrest took for granted.”
Polished and his story turned around, he became the darling of college colleges all over the country. Scouts came from far and wide to behold the kid nicknamed Big Mike — freak of nature. For someone who weighed 156kg, it was not strange that he was big and powerful, what surprised many of them was that he was fast and talented. His bad education had made learning through conventional X and O used in professional sports, but if you use bottles to jiggle his visual memory, he would remember it for the rest of his life.
Time and chance again came through for Michael. The position he was most suited to play in American football — Left Tackle — became highly sought after. Here, the reader is dealt some insane numbers. From being paid $398,000 a year in 1990, the lowest among his pairs, the average starting left tackle by 2005 was paid $7.25 million a year, dusting every one of his teammates except the quarterback he was hired to protect. In fact, there was a left tackle who was paid more than the guy he was meant to guard.
But that is not to say that despite all I read and watched, I was still not lost by Lewis’ descriptions. Try as much as I could, I stil could not make head or tail of some passages. But I imagine that American football eggheads would find it utterly fascinating.
But I came away with something I believe should be introduced to football — the real football. In the NFL, each of the 32 clubs is given the opportunity to pick players in each of the seven rounds of the NFL draft. The order of selection is determined by the reverse order of finish in the previous season. Barring any trades between clubs, each round starts with the team that finished with the worst record and ends with the Super Bowl champions. With this system, out of the 32 teams in the NFL, only four of them haven’t even been to the big game — what you would call a final of the Champions’ League in Europe. Compared that to only 22 clubs that have won the Champions League and dozens of others who have never played in the final. I understand it’s not an exact comparison, but there has to be a way to make a small section of the big clubs stop cornering the market of talents.
This book was a fine read. Because the book was written in 2006, I checked out what Michael is up to these days and can see that he has retired, somewhat disappointing that he didn’t quite reach the heights one would expect after reading the book. But then, the average NFL player spends 3 years in the league, whereas Michael spent 8 seasons. Not bad. And he would have played more if not for the concussion he had. He is now into philanthropy for blacks in black neighbourhoods.
I wouldn’t expect less, and I have Michael Lewis to thank for an enjoyable book, as well as Stephen Hoye for the most thrilling narration of a book I have had in a very long time.