"The life of an NFL player is not Peyton Manning's life," says former Denver Bronco Nate Jackson. "It's not even Peyton Manning's life for Peyton Manning -- that's the weird part."
Jackson, the author of Slow Getting Up: A Story of NFL Survival from the Bottom of the Pile, was at the Tattered Cover Tuesday to read from his book and answer questions from a capacity crowd that included former pros Jake Plummer and Charlie Adams.
Despite the veneer of invincibility worn by marquee players like Manning, Jackson maintains that "there's a person inside...who has doubt, has fear, has pain and confusion; all that stuff." This underlying reality inspired Jackson's honest, objective and unsentimental approach to writing.
As a Division III college athlete, Jackson understood that his chances of playing in the NFL were marginal at best. Still, after an entire year on the San Francisco 49ers' practice squad and an off-season overseas, the Mike Shanahan-led Broncos signed Jackson as a wide receiver in 2003. Six seasons later (twice the span of an average player's NFL career), Jackson was unexpectedly cut by Shanahan's newly hired yet ever-pompous successor as head coach, Josh McDaniels.
"When I got the deal to write this book, I didn't know if it was going to be a vague kind of account about what the NFL is like at large or if it was going to be personal," Jackson told the Tattered Cover gathering. "And the more I wrote, the more personal it became and the more cathartic it was."
Indeed, the book suffers no shortage of intensely personal anecdotes, like the one during which a road-worn Jackson calls his hotel's front desk to request the password for Pay Per View's adult entertainment section. The desk manager politely informed him that their hotel did not carry an adult entertainment section.
While Jackson's writing is both hilarious and entertaining, the author did not shy from discussing some of the more grim issues facing today's game during his appearance. He referred to current NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell as a politician and dismissed his player safety campaign as stunt of public relations.
"There's a PR push going on right now by the league to act as if they can make the game safe. They use the word 'safe' a lot," he said about the effort, which he finds disingenuous. "It makes moms and dads out there think, 'Well, maybe the game is safe. Maybe my kid is okay if he tackles this certain way or if he does this certain thing, or if we penalize him for hitting in the head.'"
To those parents, Jackson delivered a message that spoke for itself: "Your child is going to get hurt. If he plays football, he's going to get hurt. You have to weigh the pros and cons. What is most important to you?"
While Jackson confessed that no amount of information linking brain injury to professional football would have prevented him from chasing his gridiron dreams, one story he told about rehabilitating a torn groin muscle made clear the physical price he paid to hit the field on Sundays.
Jackson -- who began writing in high school as a way of coping with a close friend's suicide -- said ideas for a second book are "starting to matriculate in [his] mind." Whatever it may be, one can safely bet that it will bear Jackson's characteristic blend of humor, wit and sincerity.
More from our Sports archive: "Nate Jackson: Ex-Bronco's memoir, like its author, beats the NFL odds."
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