I had many reasons to write the GFL series. First, I love sports and I love scifi. Second, I believe that athletics gets little credit for being the primary racially integrative force in American culture. I believe a whole lot of us get along a whole lot better than we would have were it not for borders broken down by American heroes like Jackie Robinson, Fritz Pollard, Bobby Marshall, Earl Lloyd and countless others. Since many scifi fans are not sports fans, the GFL series was a way to show how sports brings people together, binds them into new tribes that superceed the inherent prejudices of our old tribes.
But the third main reason? Football is an amazing, complex game that I wanted to share with people who never really understood it. I wanted to illustrate that athletes are not the "dumb jocks" they are often made out to be, and show the sacrifices elite athletes must make to compete at the highest levels. Doing this with FTL travel and aliens allowed me to speak the language of the scifi fan while also teaching the language of football.
The gambit has been quite successful. ARealGirl and I recently calculated that THE ROOKIE has been read or listened to some 70,000 times — not half-bad for an indie book. Many of those readers tell us that they "hated" football before they read the book. Afterwards, they at least have an understanding and appreciation for the sport, if they don't just become outright fans (and pick a team, dammmit! You must pick a team! There are rules!).
With all of that fun and sharing and edumacation, sometimes the power of THE ROOKIE still surprises me. Case in point, Siglerism accolyte Jack Lawrence, 20, of Essex, England. Thanks to the GFL series, he is now a lineman for the Essex Spartans, an American football club.
Jack first heard about my work on a podcast called “Masters of None.” The hosts briefly talked about INFECTED, saying they liked it and that it was a free podcast. Jack downloaded, listened, loved it, then powered through CONTAGIOUS, EARTHCORE, NOCTURNAL and KISSYMAN. Here's where the story gets fun and makes my black, black heart all warm and fuzzy.
"I avoided the GFL series," Jack said. "Being British, I didn't know anything about American Football, nor did I have an interest in it. Most British people see the NFL as rugby with pads and therefore for people who are too cowardly to play rugby, myself being just as ignorant in that regard. However after running out of other material to listen to, and after reading a lot of good reviews about the GFL, I thought I’d give it a shot, and picked up a copy of THE ROOKIE."
And here is where my Evil Plan™ kicked in. At first, Jack listened for the interactions between the characters, enjoyed the world building of the Purist Nation and dug the descriptions of alien races and their cultures. The scifi part of the story drew him in.
"After a while, however, I found myself getting sucked into the football," Jack said. "I started reading up on the rules, watching the NFL on TV, and I bought a copy of Madden so that I could have my Green Bay Packers smash the Bears on a regular basis."
Editor's note: This makes Jack even more awesome. No one likes you, Chicago.
Jack found himself so drawn into the sport that he "got caught cheering a krakens touchdown whilst I was laying bricks on top of a five-story scaffold, along with a little victory dance to top it off."
Jack was never good at sports. He was always chosen last for teams, and he never enjoyed sporting competition. What he didn't know, however, was that an American football team play right in his back yard. He reconnected with an old friend and told him about the GFL. Surprise surprise, that old friend was a wide receiver for the Essex Spartans.
Now keep in mind, American football in the UK is still a fledgling sport. It's club-oriented, which means many teams are open to anyone giving it a go. Jack attended the Spartan's try-out day. Jack's self-proclaimed "couch potato frame" meant he wasn't very fast, eliminating him from positions like wide receiver, defensive back and linebacker. He also can't throw for crap, apparently, so no QB dreams for him. But, as a 6-foot-2, 243-pound constuction worker, he's got some size and strength, making him a candidate for the offensive line.
This is where it gets fun. Like anyone who has played the game, Jack's first experience with football involved him getting his ass kicked.
"My first few training sessions found me on the floor after being run over by the defensive line and line backers of a defense which has players who have represented Britain in the Euro League," Jack said. "I even rolled my ankle, putting me out for six weeks. After that first day however I found myself doing something I didn't think I would do — I went back for seconds. Then thirds, and fourths, and soon I was on the field every Sunday standing up to the D-Line. I wasn't about to be beaten."
I like me a stubborn person, so I can relate, but the chip on his shoulder wasn't the only reason Jack kept at it. For the first time in his life, he enjoyed playing a sport.
"Every time I walked up to the line, got into my three-point stance, it felt like bliss, like getting home and out of the cold weather," Jack said. "Soon my weight started to drop off me, I made a lot of friends, put in a lot of time at the gym."
He also spent a ton on equipment, as it all has to be imported. It cost him around $750 to buy his gear, pay his team subscroption, and pay a player-registration fee to the British American Football Association (BAFA), which is a league consisting of about seventy teams in the UK.
Armored up, trained and ready to rock, Jack played in his first offical game. As is known to happen (sorry to any pacifists out there, football is a violent sport and the people who play it enjoy that violence), Jack once again found himself getting his ass kicked — but he discovered that hitting is a two-way street.
"I became very nervous, scared even," Jack said. "A different team, people who actually want to hurt me. But I still stuck to my guns, I wanted to play football. In the first game I only got on with the special teams. In my very first play (a kick-off against the Bedfordshire Blue Raiders) I was launched off my feet and skidded along on my face in the mud. But on my next play, a punt, I found the guy who hit me and drove him into the mud — I had never felt more satisfied in my life."
As that season wore on, Jack started to find playing time on the offensive line. He's in love with the sport.
That's Jack in action at right, in the black jersey in the foreground, blocking a pass-rushing defensive end in white.
I get to sit back and humbly smile (yes, I am occasionally capable of this emotion you Hue-Mans call "humbleness") because my book started him on that path.
"Since picking up that helmet, I've really found myself," Jack said. "I’ve never been happier with my life. Whenever I put on those pads, my helmet, and my Spartans jersey, I feel at home. I feel like I’m part of something, and my confidence in the outside world has shot through the roof. I was always the self-conscious, shy, nerdy kid, and now I feel like I can do anything. I think one of the proudest days so far was when I was presented with my number 60 jersey."
Hooo. It's dusty all up in here.
Jack's story alone makes all of the countless hours spent writing, editing, podcasting and marketing THE ROOKIE worthwhile. I hope there are many more stories like it.
PS: Does this dude look bad-ass in his Krakens jersey, or what?