by Mike Freeman
288 pages (William Morrow, $24.95)
There's a gay player in the NFL. So says Mike Freeman in Bloody
Sundays. The player is a veteran who isn't a star but who would
be familiar to knowledgeable fans. He sometimes dates women to
keep his teammates in the dark about his sexuality. And his name
Oh, wait. We don't know his name because Freeman doesn't tell us.
Instead he refers to the player by a pseudonym, Steven Thompson,
whose anonymous tales provide the most sensational material in
Freeman's otherwise uneven look inside the NFL.
Freeman says he discovered Thompson's sexuality by accident after
running into him at a charity event. "That's about all I can say
without revealing too much of his identity," the author writes.
Freeman, who covers pro football for The New York Times, tried to
persuade Thompson to tell his story in that paper. But Thompson
didn't believe he would be given the space needed to do so
properly. He instead shared his account in this book.
Thompson's picture of life in the NFL is predictably grim. He
sees so much hostility toward gays that he could not imagine
coming out while active. He says that early in his career he
thought about telling a friend on the team that he was gay but
reconsidered after the teammate saw a gay couple and said,
"Somebody should kill those f---ing faggots." Thompson realized
that if he told anyone his secret, his career would be over.
Thompson says that 100 to 200 players in the NFL could be gay or
bisexual--an estimate that Freeman considers too high. Thompson
dated a player on another team (who is married) for a year, and
that player told Thompson he had dated four other players in the
league. Thompson also says that when he makes a rare venture into
a gay bar while on the road, he often sees another NFL player
Thompson's tale takes up 20 pages. The rest of the book is a
mixed bag at best. The best chapter documents the workaholic
world of Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden. Another worthy
chapter is built around alltime rushing leader Emmitt Smith and
discusses the physical dangers to which a player is exposed.
Freeman closes with a series of lists. He spells out his greatest
players at each position, 40 ways to improve the game and 99
reasons why football is better than baseball. Little is
objectionable--or surprising. The real point of these lists, it
seems, is to pad Freeman's material to book length and thus give
him a forum in which to print the hotter story of Steven
COLOR PHOTO: WILLIAM MORROW