Power Plays: Politics, Football, and Other Blood Sports

Power Plays: Politics, Football, and Other Blood Sports

Power Plays: Politics, Football, and Other Blood Sports

Power Plays: Politics, Football, and Other Blood Sports

Synopsis

The pursuit and wielding of power may be America's most intoxicating and sometimes revolting pastime. John M. Barry, award-winning author of Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America (1997), purveys American uses and abuses of might in the media, in Washington, in Olympians, and in college football.

With Power Plays: Politics, Football, and Other Blood Sports Barry draws together essays that examine the causes and effects of power. He shows how much politics and powerful agendas affect our lives. Barry draws from personal experience to probe deep into all aspects of gaining and expending personal clout.

Reflecting on life as a major college football coach, on politicians such as Dick Cheney, Newt Gingrich, and Jim Wright, or on such American athletes as world record-holding hurdler Renaldo Nehemiah, Barry pushes past the glamour and glitz to tackle the nitty-gritty, down-and-dirty stratagems that create and destroy America's most powerful figures.

Barry's witty and well-informed narrative voice keeps the discussion from becoming purely abstract. His numerous examples, including candid moments from his own life, focus on people and specific events that remain--and should remain--in the public eye and imagination.

Revealing the ethos, skills, and brinksmanship inherent in both sports and politics, Barry draws parallels between the two, often presenting sports as a metaphor for understanding the American political scene. His poignant memoirs of coaching football, and his highly opinionated voice within the other essays, make Barry as much a character and example in the book as any of the people he profiles.

Drawing on his 1989 book on the rise of Newt Gingrich and the fall of Jim Wright, The Ambition and the Power: A True Story of Washington, Barry re-envisions a book-length argument as a series of profiles and shorter articles. Barry creates in Power Plays: Politics, Football, and Other Blood Sports an engrossing and disturbing primer on American politics, helping readers to understand how might is made, manipulated, and lost.

John M. Barry lives in New Orleans and Washington, D.C., and is the author of the award-winning Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America (1997) and The Ambition and the Power: A True Story of Washington (1989). Former Washington editor of Dun's Review, he has published articles in Sports Illustrated, Newsweek, the New York Times Sunday Magazine, the Washington Post, Esquire, and the Los Angeles Times.

Excerpt

Everything in this book means something personal to me, including the title of this chapter. the first story that I ever sold was initially titled “Flexible Blocking Patterns.” At the time I was a football coach, and the story explained to other coaches how a team could call its blocking assignments at the last second, after it broke the huddle and lined up, to take advantage of a weakness in the defense or to avoid a disaster. the story ran in Scholastic Coach magazine. the editor in his wisdom changed the title, but now at least I get to use it to title this chapter. It seems more appropriate here anyway.

“Flexible Blocking Patterns” represents ways in which we attempt to maneuver to exploit openings or avoid disasters. How we adjust, twist, block. How we try to survive and, sometimes, strike and conquer. For a block is not defensive merely; in football one throws a block, and it is an offensive, attacking move. in other words, the title represents ways in which all of us try to exercise power.

This book explores that exercise of power. It is a collection. Some of the pieces in here are new, but most have appeared either in a magazine or in my first book. All of them examine how power works.

Some, those about politics, do so in an obvious way. Others, particularly those about athletes, do so less obviously. But all look at the price one pays to win, the price of losing, how one imposes one’s will on others (a process that usually begins with imposing one’s will on oneself), and how people react when the world grinds slowly away at them, when the world grinds exceeding small.

Even in my days as a coach I wondered about such things, about how power can be used or abused, not only in the abstract or en masse but in individual relationships. I wondered as well about force, dominion, might . . .

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