Gunn grad takes a hard look at football in latest book


Gunn High School English teacher Tim Farrell had a way with words that resonated with Steve Almond, one of his students in the mid-1980s.

Almond, the author of the just released "Against Football: One Fan's Reluctant Manifesto," (Melville House), vividly remembers Farrell bringing to life J.D. Salinger's "Catcher in the Rye," with an actor's voice.

"He's a wonderful reader," Almond said in a telephone interview from his home near Boston. "He was a huge influence and him reading the first chapter planted a seed that light a fire inside me. He showed me how words could be used."

Farrell taught English at Gunn for over 40 years and remains integral to the school's functions through his emeritus status.

The 47-year-old Almond went on to publish 10 books, including the New York Times bestseller, "Candyfreak." He has self-published three of his books.

Almond grew up a diehard Oakland Raiders fan. He remains a fan of the sport of football, the majesty and beauty of it all. He just doesn't bother to watch any longer.

Almond's latest book explores his reasons for disengaging with the business side of football.

He challenges his readers to take a hard look at why they continue supporting football, which has become a multi-billion dollar industry.

Almond does not advocate shutting down the sport. All he wants is an honest discussion among fans about their responsibility in the current state of football, where rules govern players' private lives as though players cannot control their own lives.

The current state of off-field activities that has Ray Rice, Ray McDonald and Adrian Peterson in the news is nothing new.

Piled on top of the increasingly disabling injuries suffered on the field and the history of football suddenly becomes backlogged with traumatic head injuries, useless digits on the hand, or the loss of portions of an athlete's body, all in the name of playing for a championship trophy.

Almond does not blame football per se but does attempt to start a discussion regarding the fan's role in all this.

"I just want us to talk it out so others can make their own decision," Almond said. "I hope it leads to a larger discussion."

Almond was born and raised in Palo Alto, where his parents, both psychoanalysts, still reside.

His father watched football every weekend and he wanted to be with his dad. The San Francisco 49ers were between John Brodie and Joe Montana but the Oakland Raiders were winning in ways usually reserved for the minds of screenwriters.

It was the era of Ken Stabler, Freddy Biletnikoff and Lester Hayes, noted for covering his uniform in stickum, a substance banned in the NFL in 1981.

Almond played on Gunn's soccer and badminton teams.

On some Saturdays, Almond wandered over to Stanford Stadium to sell hot dogs and watch John Elway perform acrobatic moves to avoid tackles.

He spent seven years as a journalist in El Paso and Miami before publishing his first book, a collection of short stories entitled "My Life in Heavy Metal."

His mother suffered a freakish brain injury a couple of years ago and about the same time he became aware of his own connection to football and why he enjoyed watching players violently run into each other.

He wanted, as he wrote "to see football for what it truly is."

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Like this comment
Posted by Matt
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 18, 2014 at 11:36 am

So he's never played football? Maybe he should write about badminton and their cheating scandals.

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