Peter Gent Dick Schaap - Essay

Dick Schaap

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Many novelists write out of pain, but very few of them can pinpoint the pain the way Peter Gent can. It is in his lower back. It has been there since 1967, when a linebacker named Vince Costello, who played for the New York Giants, put it there. Costello drove a knee into Gent, who was then a wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys, and the knee ruined several ribs and ravaged the surrounding territory. Two years later, Gent stopped playing professional football, but the pain has persisted. It is reflected on nearly every page of "North Dallas Forty."

The central characters are pro football players, men who are paid to inflict pain and to absorb pain, in varying degrees, depending to an extent on whether they happen to be X's or O's. The peripheral characters are the people who own, coach, counsel and live off X's and O's, including their fans and their women; these people are not necessarily paid to inflict pain, but many of them do, free. The wounds they cause fester longer than mere physical bruises.

One of the many remarkable things about this novel is that, despite its concern with pain and with the pills that kill pain, it is a very funny book. It is not burlesque funny, like "Semi-Tough." It is truth funny….

Gent builds a strong case against professional football. Other ex-pros have sought to indict their game, most notably Dave Meggyesy in "Out of Their League." But Meggyesy's arguments...

(The entire section is 436 words.)