“You Ought To Do a Story About Me: Addiction, an Unlikely Friendship, and the Endless Quest for Redemption”
Author: Ted Jackson
Publisher: Dey St. / Harper Collins
Price: $27.99 (Hardcover)
I am sure most reviews of this book will begin with the same scene. It is 1990 and Ted Jackson, news photographer for the “New Orleans Times-Picayune,” is sent on assignment to investigate a homeless camp under the Pontchartrain Expressway, a few blocks from the office.
Arriving there, he sees that the makeshift homeless town has been abandoned but he runs into a neatly dressed man, about 40 years old, washing out his clothes. This homeless fellow tells Jackson “You ought to do story about me.” Jackson replies “why” and the homeless man, Jackie Wallace, says “Because I’ve played in three Super Bowls.”
Jackson shoots some photos and leaves.
Back at the paper he learns it is just about true. Jackie Wallace, who had been a star football player at New Orleans’ St. Augustine High and then at The University of Arizona, had been in the NFL for 7 years and had in fact played in two Super Bowls.
A sports hero for a while and an educated and sometimes charming man who regularly reads the “Times-Picayune,” he is now a junkie who lives under a bridge.
The story of how he got there constitutes the first section of this meticulously researched book, but the story will go on for another thirty years. Jackie Wallace is now 68.
Jackson‘s paper published the story, with pictures, and the two men became friends, if it is possible to become friends with a crack cocaine addict. Can the addict be a friend to anyone, including himself?
The through-narrative of this tale is Jackson, a devout Christian and a true Good Samaritan, trying hard to help, however he can. He sometimes loses touch but never loses hope.
Jackie goes to rehab, cleans up, makes a life with a wife, job, home, sometimes for years, then goes back to the cocaine pipe and blows up the life he has created, ending up on the street or in jail, damaging his very vigorous constitution and hurting everyone around him, over and over.
It is a repetitious and painful saga with a narrative arc of a yo-yo.
The reader’s interest is largely held by wondering when Jackson will give up. He never does.
Along the way, Jackson explores some interesting sidelines.
We have learned the terrible price that football players sometimes pay in brain damage. Hits to the head can cause chronic traumatic encephalopathy, CTE, a disease that can result in behavior changes: anxiety, depression, suicidal urges, apathy, even violent rage.
The NFL is now providing funds for sufferers but that money is hard to get. Unfortunately, the disease can only be verified in autopsy.
Jackson explains that some doctors now believe the brain is injured not only in the spectacular, highlight-reel hits we see on TV, the ones that end in knockouts or concussions, but in little jolts to the brain, as many as 50 to 60 per game, and among linemen as well as quarterbacks and receivers. Jackie Wallace would have received 800 to 1,000 hits to his brain per year for 14 years.
Jackson also explores the roots of addiction which may be psychological—a result of feeling unconnected to others, may be brain chemistry, and may be connected to the blows to the brain.
It is quite certain that one should not take up crack cocaine. We may also be learning that football is also injurious to your health.