Monday, October 07, 2019

PLAYING THROUGH THE WHISTLE: Steel, Football, and an American Town

Playing Through the Whistle: Steel, Football, and an American TownPlaying Through the Whistle: Steel, Football, and an American Town by S.L. Price
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I grew up in western Pennsylvania during a time when the coal mines and steel mills of Jones & Laughlin Corporation provided employment for my dad and most of my friends’ dads too. In fact, other than a stint with Uncle Sam, my dad spent his entire working career with J&L.

We lived in “The Patch”, a community of duplex houses in alternating green and red shingles built by the company for its laborers. We shopped at the company store where my mother worked for a time until meeting my dad and allowing him to take her away from all that. There were patches all around the area supporting the particular mines and mills where their residents worked. It was the natural state of things.

S. L. Price, a writer for Sports Illustrated and other magazines, writes in “PLAYING THROUGH THE WHISTLE: Steel, Football, and an American Town” about one of those J&L patches: Aliquippa, a large steel town of ethnic neighborhoods with more than its share of high school football mastery throughout the decades. Price exhibits his own mastery by blending the elements of those ethnic identities, steel, and football into a rich history of American life.

Over the decades, western PA has provided more than its share of top NFL Players, and Aliquippa has been a rich resource of those players ranging from Mike Ditka to Darelle Revis. Price explains why the rich work ethic of the steel workers manifested itself into successful football programs. In many cases, racial tensions, unemployment, drugs and violence, made this success seem more than improbable, and Price examines the families, coaches, players, and their changing environments that made that success more difficult and unlikely.

Price’s history is an honest look at the people who have lived for their community, and their community, in many ways, lived for football. It is a an American story, and Price tells it well.

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