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Review Tue Feb 12 2013

Review: Duerson: Triumph, Trauma and Tragedy in the NFL

Duerson: Triumph, Trauma and Tragedy in the NFLSuper Bowl XLVII capped off another multi-billion dollar year for the National Football League, in which commissioner Roger Goodell dealt not only with record ratings, but also the sixth former or current player taking his own life in the last two years.

The most recent incident involved Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher, who not only committed suicide in front of his coach and general manager back in December, but also shot and killed his girlfriend before doing so.

Fans question how athletes, who seem to have it all (fame, fortune, success), would want to end it all with a bullet. The same question was asked about former Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson, after he fatally shot himself in the chest back on Feb. 17, 2011, leaving behind his family, business, friends and legions of fans asking, "Why?"

A new e-book about Duerson's life, Duerson: Triumph, Trauma and Tragedy in the NFL, as told through articles from the Chicago Tribune, examines the two-time Super Bowl champion's career as a football player (Bears, New York Giants and Arizona Cardinals), his passion to compete, his business life, the troubles he ran into, and his unfortunate suicide.

The book also looks into the controversial topic of concussions and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), which is often tied to depression and memory loss. These symptoms have been directly linked to suicides, and are compared to what Duerson endured throughout his career.

Former Tribune writer Ed Sherman begins the book by putting the reader smack dab in the middle of the 1985 season, which is where we learn about Duerson as a player, a teammate, and his foretelling of life after football. The reader is taken back to a time that all Chicagoans cherish to this day: when Da Coach was more popular than Da Mayor, Sweetness was side-stepping around linemen, and the Monsters of the Midway were manhandling quarterbacks.

Duerson felt the need to always prove himself on the field, as told by Sherman. Defensive Coordinator Buddy Ryan didn't even want Duerson on the team, and flat out told him he couldn't wait to see Duerson make his first mistake so that he could replace him. Duerson went on to the Pro Bowl by way of having to play and hit harder than everyone else, and even vowed to "exhaust himself" by showing up Ryan's Eagles the next season, which he did.

Duerson's hard work off the field is examined by Mike Kiley, who wrote articles for the Tribune on the charitable efforts displayed by Duerson. Kiley covers Duerson receiving the 1987 NFL Man of the Year award (it is now referred to as the Walter Payton Man of the Year award), which he won for his efforts in DAMCO, a drug and alcohol awareness program for young kids.

It's during this time that we also catch a glimpse into Duerson's interest in politics and entrepreneurship, as he meets with then-Lieutenant Governor George Ryan and discusses the potential sponsorship of youth football camps. The two-time all-American majored in economics at Notre Dame, and would find success in his business life off the field by franchising the fast food chain McDonald's and starting his own company, Duerson Foods.

We then see through the collection of articles an uncharacteristic turn for the worse for Duerson, as the rage he experienced on the field came through in his home life. Duerson was charged with domestic abuse, after police arrested him for throwing his wife Alicia against the wall. Their marriage of 24 years would eventually end in divorce.

What started out as a life filled with so much potential for Duerson, is suddenly coming apart at the seams. In an instant, he is forfeiting his seat on the board of trustees at Notre Dame and fighting legal cases against his marriage, not to mention foreclosure on his beautiful Highland Park home and Duerson Foods falling into receivership.

Later in the book, Don Pierson looks at how Duerson became involved with the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), which fights for players' rights in the monies they are owed. (This was around the same time that Duerson saw his personal life come apart.) This includes disability payments from all the years of hard hitting on the gridiron, which made the league untold billions of dollars over the years.

It can't be denied that Duerson made good with fighting for players' rights after retirement in the NFL. Maybe it was a way to show he was still a responsible person, maybe a way to help take his mind off of his personal issues -- or maybe it's both, all while setting an example for future players.

The last part of the book covers Duerson's death and the shockwaves that were felt from Halas Hall to Duerson's birthplace in Muncie, Indiana. Phrases like "I'm stunned," and "It's a real shock" were repeated by former teammates. It wasn't until word leaked that Duerson's death was a suicidal shotgun blast to the chest that pieces were slowly put together in relation to this tragic ending.

It's mentioned that Duerson made a few references to family members about wanting his brain examined after death, so that "the effects of brain trauma could be examined and so kids could play the game more safely." After reading the hour-by-hour breakdown of Duerson's last days, it's clear to see he was as meticulous in planning his own death, as he was in covering an offense.

The book then goes into the results of studies on Duerson's brain that were released. It was discovered that signs of damage were found on Duerson's brain, which shed light into his strange and abusive behavior later in life.

Duerson: Triumph, Trauma and Tragedy in the NFL is a look into the life of a beloved, handsome and smart individual, who loved to compete, thrived on success, cherished his family, but, ultimately, fell prey to the ill effects of the sport he loved. In the end, working hard for others was something Duerson loved doing, even if it meant going in head first.

Duerson: Triumph, Trauma and Tragedy in the NFL is available from Agate Publishing in ePUB format for $4.99. It's also available for Kindle via Amazon.

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JZ / February 15, 2013 10:06 AM

One nitpick: Jovan Belcher didn't kill his daughter.

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