Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Reading :: The Blind Side

The Blind Side
By Michael Lewis

The Blind Side has been selected as this year's First Year Forum book at the University of Texas at Austin: the book that all students enrolled in first year rhetoric and writing classes (RHE 306) will read. Like most FYF books, this is a popular title that (loosely) engages a bundle of controversies: in this case, issues of race, academics, and sports.

In a nutshell, the book has two alternating parts.

One part examines a strategic change in football: the introduction of the quarterback sack -- a defensive move that can only be pulled off by a very swift, strong player who can surprise the quarterback on his "blind side" -- required a strategic, systematic response. The NFL's strategic response was to elevate the position of left tackle as a counterbalance, and to find incredibly rare offensive players who are fast, strong, and massive enough to block a QB sack. This position is now the second most highly paid position on the field.

The other part examines the discovery and grooming of a left tackle: a homeless African-American boy from Memphis who ends up at a Christian private school in the Memphis suburbs, is taken in and adopted by a wealthy Anglo-American family, and helped to reach his potential in academics and athletics. At the end of the book, he is pulling a 3.75 average at the University of Mississippi, the alma mater of his adoptive parents -- and playing left tackle.

It's a well written and interesting story. Although sympathetic to the adoptive parents -- in the Afterword, Lewis mentions that he knew the adoptive father since kindergarten and he stumbled onto the story when visiting the family on a social call -- the book attempts to look at all angles of the story, including one accusation that the NCAA investigated: whether a wealthy white family adopted a black son in order to guide him to their alma mater's football program. Lewis concludes that this was not the case, but allows us to make up our own minds.

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