Dec 07 2018

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Non-Fiction Text Review #2 – Paper Lion

Posted at 2:29 PM under Assignments

Paper Lion is about a writer trying to see what it is like to a professional football last-string quarterback and write about it in a book. George Plimpton, the main character, has a hard time trying to find a team that is willing to have him go to pre-season practices. The first two teams that Plimpton contacts are the New York Giants and the Baltimore Colts. The Detroit Lions are the third team that he calls, and they said yes. He heads down to their pre-season headquarters in Cranbrook school, a boys’ private school in Michigan.

He talks about his experience in the pre-season camp and practices. He discusses the environment and treatment of veterans to rookies. He’s describing in many details what it is like to be a rookie quarterback in the “big times.” He gets to know and bonds with the players and coaches on the team. He talks about playing his only football game and losing 30 yards. After that game, he tries very hard to play in another football game, but the NFL commissioner said no. He leaves the Lions training camp and a season later; he works at the NFL Draft as a representative for the Detroit Lions.

The author of this book is George Plimpton. The book was published in 1966. He was the first editor-in-chief of The Paris Review. In his sports journalism career, he pioneered the participatory journalism, where he competes in professional sports games and writes about it for people to read. He has written the book Out of My League in 1960. Out of My League was put together in the same way as this book and was the influence of this book. For Paper Lion, he thought that he could repeat the same experiment that completed when he tried out baseball as a part of the New York Yankees. His determination to try participatory journalism again but in the world of the NFL and the Detroit Lions.

The author’s purpose for writing this book to see if his experiment in participating in the professional world of football as an amateur would work, and it did. After the success of his first participatory journalism experiment, he took a few years off to plan his next test which turned out to be the book, Paper Lion. He wanted to see what it is like for an average person or amateur to be a part of an NFL team and play professional football. It turned out that it was improbable for an average person to become a professional football player in the NFL. He wanted people to know what the players on the Detroit Lions team are like on and off the football field. He accomplished his goals of the experiment with football and for writing the book to explain in details what it is like to be the “odd” person out in an NFL team.

Plimpton’s idea for the book was to call up NFL teams and see if they wanted him and if it was alright to write about his experience with the team. It took two different NFL teams until the third team, the Detroit Lions, said yes to having him on their football team during their pre-season training camps. The Lions said yes for Plimpton to write all about his experience. Once he arrived at the Detroit Lions’ pre-season training camps, the team made it clear to Plimpton that he should try to fit in with the players, so that they won’t get nervous with having a writer being around them.

His methods for writing this book were interviewing, observation, research, and participation. Plimpton interviewed but also talked to the players in conversation to have a sense of who they are and what they are like as a football player and as a person. He observed by watching the football players on the football field, practicing over and over again. Plimpton researched the team by asking the coaches and players what happened last season for the Lions and reading the sports section of the newspaper to have a feeling of what the team is like during the season. He read the papers before he went to the training camps.

He participated heavily on the football field during practices and hanging out the players after the practice sessions were over for the day. The participation of being on the team as a quarterback and as a member of the Detroit Lions is the most important to accomplish what he wanted to do. He couldn’t write this book that way that it was without being there in person and talking to the members of the Lions. Another part that helped the participation part of Plimpton’s methods is interviewing. Participating and talking to the players go hand-in-hand throughout the entire book.

George Plimpton’s perspective when writing the book is the opinion and subjective observations. There are parts of the book where he tries to be objective but realizes that he can’t because he is soaked up in the life of an NFL football player. His position in the book is trying his best to have the players be comfortable with him talking to them and being around them. He is emotionally involved in the story because he is the main character. In the process of being apart of the Lions’ training camp, he becomes obsessed with the game of football, and after he leaves the training camp, he also becomes obsessed with the team by wanting to help them out in any way. He learns that there is a brotherhood in football and even after leaving the sport, there is still that brotherhood that is inseparable.

I liked reading this book. To read a book from the perspective of someone who is trying not only a new sport but at the professional level is fascinating. George Plimpton brings the readers along with him on his journey to playing an NFL football, along with the ups and downs. He also helps the readers learn more about the players on the Detroit Lions and their coaches. This “inside scoop” is something that probably didn’t happen very often in the periods of the 1950s and 1960s.

Having someone who is willing to put their life on the line to tell a story is crazy, insane, brave, and adventurous all at the same time. Plimpton, in my opinion, brought participatory journalism into the spotlight with this book. He is a writer that is not afraid of what’s happening next. He’s a writer that is going to go along the adventure and see what happens.

One response so far

One Response to “Non-Fiction Text Review #2 – Paper Lion”

  1. fuglsangon 13 Dec 2018 at 3:22 PM 1

    You’re covering all the bases, Reilly. Be aware of repetition.

    There’s a bit more going on here than just Plimpton experimenting. One of the reasons behind “new journalism” was a recognition, or at least the belief, that a writer could only tell a “true” story if he was involved in the action. That’s what Tom Wolfe was doing. What Hunter Thompson was doing. And even to some extent what McGinniss was doing in Selling of the President.

    Not on time.