Book review: Slow Getting Up, by Nate Jackson

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 October, 2013, 5:44pm

Slow Getting Up: A Story of NFL Survival From the Bottom of the Pile
by Nate Jackson
4 stars

Dwight Garner

This book is everything you want football memoirs to be but never are: hilarious, dirty, warm, human, honest, weird.

Nate Jackson played six seasons, from 2002 to 2008, with the San Francisco 49ers and the Denver Broncos, mostly at tight end. He managed to escape with some brain cells intact.

A lot of the tragicomedy in Slow Getting Up springs from sex, a pastime National Football League (NFL) players are able to pursue avidly. On a typical night in a club, Jackson and his Bronco teammates turn around to find "women … pulled towards us by our oversized pituitaries and our cave man libidos". He writes: "Now everything is open wide: arms, doors, and legs. We are young, physically powerful men with money."

Jackson is observant about almost everything - injuries, coaches, drug tests, agents, reporters, violence, pranks, self-loathing. He is epigrammatical. "Show me a painful ritual," he says about practices, "and I'll show you a way to cheat it."

He was always an NFL long shot. Once called up to the pros, however, he steadies himself by realising that he may be competing against "a herd of meat sacks" but they're basically like him. "They're just dudes: dudes with strengths and dudes with weaknesses. Dudes with doubts and fears and pain."

Guys who don't get to play much, Jackson writes, get pretty worked up when they are allowed onto the field. During one pre-season game, he is put in for a few plays late in the contest, when everyone else is going through the motions. "I run around like a crazed jackal. I want blood. I want to taste the iron on my tongue as I rip the flesh from a safety's bones and play Hacky Sack with his testicles. Everyone looks at me like I'm an idiot."

Jackson dislocated his shoulder twice in college, and now it keeps popping out of the socket. Dislocated shoulders are the least of it. He seems to break, bend or twist every bone in his body.

Doctors patch players up, usually with shots of painkillers. But Jackson makes a lovely argument for his favourite painkiller: "The NFL should remove marijuana from their banned substances list. Don't tell anyone about it: just stop testing for it. Pain is a big problem in the NFL."

About pain and the media, he writes about how players are schooled to talk to reporters. "Do say: We're taking this thing one game at a time and we'll see what happens. Don't say: Man, I really would like to go home and eat a heroin sandwich."

Slow Getting Up is a wide-awake book about what it's like to play in the NFL. "In our football lives, we pretend we are invincible, because we have to keep on playing. In reality, we are fragile and we are afraid," Jackson writes.

The New York Times