Sunday, June 17, 2018

Manhood: How to be a Better Man--or Just Live with One by Terry Crews

Hardcover, 281 pgs, Pub May 20th 2014 by Zinc Ink, ISBN13: 9780804178051

This wasn’t the book I thought it would be when I sought it out after watching Trevor Noah interview Terry Crews about the cancellation and subsequent surprise pick-up of further episodes of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. I hadn’t seen that TV series, either, but I was so impressed with what Crews said in the interview about masculinity, and how it really never was all that good for men, either. And then there was, in my opinion, the funniest man on late night saying over and over how funny Crews was…well, I knew I had to find out what I’d missed.

Crews grew up in Flint, Michigan in an abusive household. His father was a foreman in a GM plant. Terry and his brother as youngsters were fearful of their physical safety. Terry dreamed of getting out of Flint, and like many boys of a certain age, he hoped an athletic scholarship would provide that opportunity. He got his chance, and this look at college athletics is exactly what we’ve been learning over the past couple of years from journalistic sources. Extremely exploitative and oftentimes racist, these school programs exist, not to further the career opportunities of teens, but to pull in money for the school with very little accountability either to the administration or to the students.

Crews’ scholarship was constantly being withheld or given back, not allowing him to plan his education path, while the amount of time required to play on the team meant there was no time or energy for anything else while he was in college, giving him less education than he needed and few opportunities to grow into the well-rounded, responsible person we expect of college graduates. From there he jumped from the frying pan into the fire, accepting a bid from an NFL team.

Here the exploitation of the players was greater by several degrees of magnitude. Unless one is a first-string player, there is precious little money considering the physical risks, much of the expense of which the player himself has to front in advance while ‘practice’ is taking place. We learn also that players are not intended to sign contracts offered them should they prove capable enough to win games, but are expected to work for half the contract value or less so that wage prices are kept low. One begins to understand why an NFL franchise is such a lucrative business opportunity, and why someone like Donald Trump would have loved to get his hands on such a opportunity to scam the tax authorities, players, fans, etc. It’s a virtual mint, if one doesn’t mind the slave-owner aspect.

Crews shares examples of bad experiences he’d had with coaches, teachers, or pastors which reminded him of how constrained his opportunities were. Somewhere he’d developed a sense of his own worth, and grew weary of “being threatened by people he did not respect.” He found a woman he did respect while still in college, and tied her fortunes to his early on. He seemed to have the right instincts because she has been his rock during extremely trying financial times in the NFL and after, when he was trying to break into show business—not as an actor, but as a producer, writer, animator.

Crews, right from the opening paragraphs of his memoir shows his extraordinariness, and makes the ordinariness of the people around him all the more apparent. A black man in those days was just another expendable person, and the fact his college coaches did not put him in a position which would show his skill Crews suggests was due to racism. Once in the NFL, it seems was more a lack of mentorship and a culture of exploitation that did not allow him to shine, making us feel even more sorry for the men who actually made the team and stayed on it. Money doesn’t make up for everything, no matter what they say.

And we get a glimpse of the NFL culture and what it is like to socialize with other NFL players on the constantly on-the-move circuit of games away from home. It sounds perfectly dreadful, the forced camaraderie among the displaced. Crews recounts once getting on a plane after he'd been cut from one team and was being called to another across the country. He did not have enough money to fly to the new team. Because he’d paid with hastily-borrowed cash, airport security assumed he was a drug dealer and pulled him off the plane. Cripes. Can you imagine any one of any other race willing to put up with that kind of bull? He was plenty pissed off, but needed to get where he was going so didn’t scream the house down.

Well, it is kind of a miracle this man survived as long as he did, and accomplished as much as he has. While he is apologizing for his anger management issues and resentments, I’m thinking…wait. You mean we don’t have the right to be royally pissed off when we are jerked around? He’d say that it does us no good, and we need to look at the issue differently so that it doesn’t trip us up on our way to a goal. Now that I’ve seen him talk online about his experience with sexual abuse by a talent agent, I’m thinking he is the hottest property around.

Crews does talk at the end of this memoir that manhood used to mean being right and in control. Now it is more about getting along with others and allowing everyone to live their best lives. He relies on the talents and goodwill of his long-time wife Rebecca and isn’t afraid to acknowledge the part she plays in holding up his world. He is inclined to talk about compassion for our own, and other's, failings is a good way to heal a rift. He suggests starting with oneself, rather than expecting someone else to take on that challenge. He really is a role model, and doesn’t just talk the talk.

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