Nate Jackson. 2013. Slow Getting Up: A Story of NFL Survival from the Bottom of the Pile. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.
Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra
The best manager that I ever worked with, who later became a good friend, knew how to motivate his staff—he focused on their aspirations. He worked the dream. The job was not about the money; it was not about agency goals; it was not about the team; it was not even about the work per se; it was about the dream. In spite of an oppressive work environment where we were ignored and our work forgotten, he kept the dream alive and we loved him. In his book, Slow Getting Up, Nate Jackson talks about living the football dream.
What is the football dream? Jackson writes:
A footback dream is easy to spot. Turn on SportsCenter and they’ll show what it looks like. Tom Brady’s life. Peyton Manning’s life. Fairy tales. Storybooks. The football dream I had as a child unfolded much differently. But it has still unfolded. Every crease and every line, every grunt and every pop. I’m playing the game I love. The grass is still green, the hits still hurt, and the ball in flight is still the most beautiful sight I know. I will chase it to the ends of the earth (69).
The dream justifies every sacrifice, every injury, every set back. Along with the dream comes a cool uniform, TV time, money, respect, easy sex, and all the things that go with it. The dream and its evil twin—the nightmare—battle for our attention throughout Jackson’s book.
Sprinkled throughout the book are references to mom—the silent, ever-present observer. For example, on signing his first National Football League (NFL) contract, Jackson blurts out: Look, Ma, I’m a 49er! (15). This comment seems like a throw-away cliché the first couple times it appears, but then Jackson writes:
My mom has three criteria that she uses to judge a game. One, did I stay healthy? Two, was I happy with my performance? Three, did we win? Moms are ahead of the curve. The NFL is momless (178-179).
NFL players chase the dream; NFL moms live the nightmare.
Tension between the Dream and the Nightmare
This tension between dream and nightmare fuels Jackson’s plot. The sagas of the games compete with injury reports to build excitement—will the NFL sign Jackson another season or will his injuries permanently disqualify him ? Injury report after injury report chronicles his career from 2002 with the 49ers to 2003-2008 with the Denver Broncos. While the career continues, the bloom is off the rose after Darrent Will is shot to death after a Broncos game in 2006 (130). Jackson writes: After D-Will died I sank into a hole (133). The nightmare finally gets the upper-hand over the dream—the dream was no longer enough (134).
In Slow Getting Up Jackson writes an autobiographical account of his 6 years in the NFL in 12 chapters. These chapters are preceded by a prologue describing his last days as a professional football player and followed by a short acknowledgments section which describes his writing career. Although Jackson has written for a number of periodicals, including the Wall Street Journal , this is his first book.
Jackson is an accomplished writer whose autobiography reads like an action thriller. This is because he pays attention to pacing and salts his personal story with skillfully articulated character sketches of the people that populate his life. He is coy about telling the reader that he is a Christian , but it comes out in his account of prayers in the showers—written in the third person—where the entire Lord’s Prayer is recited (171-172).
Interestingly, Slow Getting Up can be read as an allegory symbolizing the dark underside of the postmodern era. An era where work is just a text away, image matters more than reality, and masculinity is defined by doing stupid things just because you can. To see this, reflect on the Apostle Paul’s description of the old self and the new self in Christ:
…put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:22-24 ESV).
In this reading, football dreams are actually a nightmare masquerading as something positive. You think that you control your life—your fate—but it is an obsession wrapped in a brazen lie. The old self thrives, dominates, and poisons our life because we love the illusion of self-determination. This is Paul’s old self.
But as the truth keeps interjecting itself into our lives, the nightmare slowly emerges in full horror. We discover that, not only are we not in control, we cannot even break out of the chains that we have forged for ourselves in our obsession. For Jackson, the nightmare manifests itself when he finds himself playing football for the Las Vegas Locos stripped of his youth & health and offered little compensation or future prospects (235). Only God through Jesus Christ can remove those chains and set us free. This is Paul’s new self in Christ.
By highlighting the old self, Jackson invites us to consider something new, something better. Thank you Nate.
 Christian quarterback, Tim Tebow, played for the Denver Broncos after Jackson retired during 2010-2012 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_Tebow).
Jackson and Football Dreams
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