It takes a lot of courage to jump in and fight against the riptide of systemic racism, low-performing schools, familial economic strain and the lure of drugs in the East Brooklyn neighborhood of Brownsville. Chris Legree and his fellow coaches in the Mo Better Jaguar football program fight a daily battle to help young men stay the course, better themselves through sport, and hopefully escape the streets. This is the story told in Albert Samaha’s exceptional ethnographical book Never Ran, Never Will. With shrinking rosters and health concerns, Samaha’s takes a penetrating look at the value of youth football in the inner city. His balanced reporting chronicles the successes and unfortunate tragedies in the history of the football organization.
The first part of the book briefly details the 2013 season, but mainly focuses on the author’s tremendous research that lays the foundation for so many important discussions in the book. One needs to know the history of Brownsville, the state of law enforcement laws in NYC, and the economics of the transitioning neighborhoods to understand the plight of these young men. From stable middle-class families, immigrant families, and broken homes, Samaha relates the lives of about a half a dozen players and three coaches. The second part of the book takes a deeper dive into the 2014 season. Told with great intensity, the reader cannot help but root for the boys to win.
What struck me the most about this book was the overwhelming impression of the power of a mentor. Several studies over the last ten years have shown the considerable effect positive mentoring can have on youth. As Samaha writes: From ages 10-12, these boys “age out of innocence.” Gio, Hart, Isaiah, and Oomz are boys that need men like Chris, Esau, and Vick in their lives. These men structure their family lives and their jobs around the demands of the program, and should be lauded for that dedication.
Never Ran, Never Will belongs on the shelf next to Kotlowitz’s There Are No Children Here, Wojnarowski’s The Miracle of St. Anthony, and Coyle’s Hardball. This is an important book that poses real questions about what will fill the void if football and other sports disappear from inner cities. The author cares enough to look at all the factors that affect this neighborhood, and confesses in the introduction that he is one of the people who has moved into and gentrified these neighborhoods. His honesty provides a clear view, a transparency that only comes in the most honest and dedicated of writing. Thank you to Mr. Samaha for writing about these boys and their devoted mentors.
5 out of 5 stars
Comes out on September 4th, 2018.
Thank you to NetGalley, Perseus Books, PublicAffairs Books, and Albert Samaha for the advanced copy to review.