There are not many novels written by professional athletes. Sure, there are scores and scores of books written by professional athletes. Most of these books take the form of autobiographies chronicling hard work, dedication, and rises to sports glory. Sometimes these books are from absolute legends like Jackie Robinson (I Never Made It: An Autobiography of Jackie Robinson) or Pele (Pele: The Autobiography). Other times, somewhat less legendary athletes have produced autobiographical books. Journeyman relief pitcher Jason Grilli (Just My Game) and basketball player Paul Shirley (Can I Keep My Jersey?), who played in the NBA and overseas for many seasons, come to mind.
Sometimes these books by athletes even depict a fall from grace, like in Michael Vick’s autobiography Finally Free. And some pro-athlete autobiographies are tell-alls designed to stir up controversy in the sports world. Jim Bouton’s Ball Four and Jose Conseco’s Juiced created major waves in the baseball world upon release. There are books by professional athletes that function as manuals on how to improve at or excel at a given sport. The Science of Hitting by Ted Williams could turn anyone into a .400 hitter. Well, maybe.
There are even a shocking number of children’s books written by professional athletes. Carmelo Anthony, Alex Morgan, Dennis Rodman, Tiki Barber, and Ronde Barber, George Foreman, Terrell Owens, and Metta World Peace have all, for better or worse, written books for children. But where are all of the novels written by professional athletes?
Four Novels Written By Professional Athletes
For some reason, fiction has not been the focus of most of the written work athletes have created. The most famous example may be the best-seller North Dallas Forty by former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Peter Gent. The book was turned into a movie of the same name starring Nick Nolte. And Gent went on to write four other sports novels.
Here are some other less well-known examples of novels that were written by professional athletes.
Toss – Boomer Esiason (and Lowell Cauffiel)
In the fall of 1998, Boomer Esiason, freshly retired from a highly successful 14-season NFL quarterbacking career, joined the broadcasting booth for Monday Night Football. That same fall he released a novel called Toss. His co-author on this project, Lowell Cauffiel, had made his name as a true-crime author but had published a couple of crime novels in 1997. The duo of Esiason and Cauffiel came up with a story about rookie quarterback Derek Brody whose dream-come-true of playing pro ball gets turned upside down when an ex-QB’s murder leads to revelations about scandal within his new team’s ranks, the discovery of more dead bodies, and some less-than-legal dealings with the mob.
Toss sounds kind of hokey (and it is), but it received some fairly decent reviews. Both Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews noted that the book contained some interesting insights into the world of modern pro football.
Boomer Esiason, who had already written a children’s book called A Boy Named Boomer in 1995, has yet to author another novel. However, one has to hope that perhaps a follow-up novel is in the works so that we can find out what became of the career of Derek Brody.
Monday Night Jihad – Jason Elam (and Steve Yohn)
While still an active player in 2007, two-time Super Bowl champion placekicker Jason Elam, with the help of his pastor Steve Yohn, wrote his first novel Monday Night Jihad. The book follows Riley Covington, a military veteran-turned professional linebacker, who is pulled back into the world of anti-terrorist operations following a deadly explosion during a Monday Night Football game. As tempting as it is, I won’t give away the twist ending here. However, the most surprising thing about Monday Night Jihad may be that it was followed by three more Riley Covington novels.
The books are part of a genre known as Christian thrillers, which means that they are exactly like most other mainstream thriller books except that they are pretty clean in terms of language (and other adult themes) and they contain rather heavy-handed lessons on faith.
Also in 2007, another NFL player had a brush with a Christian-themed novel when then-49ers quarterback Alex Smith wrote the forward to Karen Kingsbury’s football-themed novel Between Sundays. A few years later Smith and Kingsbury would team up again, this time to write a children’s book called Go Ahead and Dream.
Mycroft Holmes – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (co-author Anna Waterhouse)
The absolutely legendary Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is one of the most prolific athletes in terms of written works. Starting with his 1983 autobiography Giant Steps, the Bucks and Lakers legend has written a slew of non-fiction books on his career, African-American history, and race issues. In 2013 he released (with co-author Raymond Obstfeld) the first installment of The Streetball Crew series, which was ultimately a two-book basketball-themed fiction series for kids. 2015 saw the release of Mycroft Holmes, a mystery novel for adults co-written with Anna Waterhouse.
This novel saw the biggest subject matter departure in terms of novels written by professional athletes, as it had absolutely nothing to do with sports. Instead, this novel follows the titular character, created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as the brother of Sherlock Holmes, as he investigates a mystery involving missing children on the island of Trinidad. To date there have been two more books from Abdul-Jabbar and Waterhouse added to the Mycroft Holmes series.
“The Tower of Power” may hold the distinction of being the best-reviewed of the professional athletes turned fiction authors, as his Holmes trilogy has received positive comments from discerning publications such as Kirkus Review, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. As novels written by professional athletes go, Abdul-Jabbar’s Holmes books are on another level.
Tietam Brown – Mick Foley
Though it is a hotly debated topic, for the purposes of this article professional wrestlers will be considered athletes, thus the inclusion of an adult fiction title by Mick Foley (the man also known to WWE fans as Mankind, Dude Love, and Cactus Jack) on this list of novels written by professional athletes. Foley made a name for himself with his penchant for taking great amounts of punishment in violent matches often involving barbed wire, thumbtacks, and steel chairs to the head. His most iconic moment may have been when he fell (or more accurately was thrown by The Undertaker) 22 feet from the top of a steel cage at a WWE (then-WWF) pay-per-view in 1998.
The next year, Foley’s autobiography Have a Nice Day was released to much fanfare and made it to the top of the New York Times nonfiction best-seller list. The success of his autobiography led to several more memoirs by Foley and a number of titles for children. But in 2003, with the release of Tietam Brown, Foley first dipped his toe into the world of adult fiction. And the book, just like many of Foley’s matches, certainly contained elements that were not fit for children. The novel is something of a coming-of-age story about a teenager named Antietam Brown and his story deals with topics such as abuse, hate groups, and bullying.
Unlike with the other novels written by professional athletes on this list, it should be noted that Foley wrote this novel entirely on his own without the assistance of a co-author, or tag team partner if you will.
In 2005, Foley released his second adult novel Scooter. Scooter is also a coming-of-age novel, but this one is set in the late 60s and focuses heavily on baseball and the social unrest of the time.
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