"A story that merits both sympathy and attention."Kirkus Reviews
"An inspiring call to action about mental illness."
"For sports fans and anyone who has struggled with depression."
"The book...isn't a puffy portrait of the long-time fixture on ABC's college football coverage and 'The Sports Reporters'-though it's true Saunders was one of the most-liked sportscasters on ESPN through his career. This book explores Saunders' off-camera struggles, which included the events surrounding his life-long battle with depression...Readers will learn so many things about Saunders they would have never expected to hear-and they will also gain a better understanding of the day-to-day lives of people with depression. Saunders proves it's not what you think."
"In this book, Saunders gives an astoundingly honest account of his lifelong struggle with depression...Playing Hurt makes it clear that depression doesn't care who you are. It doesn't care about your race, gender, age, family background, professional success, or anything else like that. This book also does an amazing job of saying to readers who suffer from this illness, "You are not alone," which is a message that can never be stated often enough...The honesty of this book, especially for such a public figure (who assumed he'd be alive when it was eventually published), is breathtaking...Playing Hurt is a gripping story, it is an emotional story, and above all else, it is an important story. It is not hyperbole to say that this book will save lives. It is a must-read."
Clearing Out the Clutter
"[A] moving chronicle of [Saunders'] struggle...Readers will ache for him as he struggles to overcome brain trauma while still battling depression. This is a tough read; there's a lot of pain on the pages. But, as Saunders promised in his preface, there's a kind of hope as well."Booklist
"This is an important book. Parts will leave you shaken, others will inform you, still others will uplift you. Playing Hurt is the final act of grace in John's remarkable life, so we may learn of the toll of depression, the need for diagnosis and treatment, and the hope that awaits."Bob Ley, host of ESPN's Outside the Lines, winner of 11 Emmy Awards
"For 30 years, my friend John Saunders earned my admiration for his understated demeanor, his top-of-the-line professionalism, his Old World ways, and his gentle yet warm smile and laughter. I'm sure those who never met him except through TV felt the exact same way. After reading Playing Hurt, my respect for him has increased exponentially. So will yours. Thank you, John."Chris Berman, legendary ESPN broadcaster
"Playing Hurt is John Saunders's personal, poignant story of how he responded to childhood traumas, abuse, clinical depression, an array of head traumas, sports injuries, suicidal thoughts, and excessive use of prescribed medications throughout his life. His hard-learned message: when depression strikes, it is a sign of real strength to talk and turn to family, friends, and experts."
John F. Greden, MD, Founding Chair, National Network of Depression Centers (NNDC)
"Playing Hurt is a public service. Here is a trusted friend, a man who has spent so many hours in our living rooms, providing an education about brain injury, about depression, and the symbiosis between the two. Knowing he died so soon after he emerged from this fog is heartbreaking. Playing Hurt is a testament to John and the hidden struggles he overcame."
Ivan Maisel, ESPN.com, six-time winner Best Writing, Football Writers Association
"This book underscores the difficulty and significance of acknowledging depression, as well as understanding that this is not unlike any other serious and chronic illness. Then, as Saunders learns, with the assistance of skilled porfessionals and loving, caring, and supportive family and friends, it can be diagnoses, treated, and managed."Elissa P. Benedek, past President, American Psychiatric Association
"Edgy [and] revelatory...An important book about mental illness."
Wil Haygood, Washington Post
"Will have you glued to your seat.""The Bookworm Sez" syndicated column
"A taboo busting and insightful memoir."Washington Book Review
"This isn't the typical sports memoir, focusing on career highlights and lowlights and the author patting themselves on the back. Instead, Playing Hurt focuses on the physical, mental, and emotional trauma that Saunders was subjected to during his life...Playing Hurt is an essential read for anyone, not just those battling depression or were fans of Saunders' work at ESPN...It is an important, enlightening read that will hopefully push more people to be open and public with their battles with depression and nudge those who feel like they need help to get the help that they deserve."
An excellent athlete in his youth, for the past 25 years ESPN mainstay Saunders (1955–2016) had enjoyed his roles as a journalist and commentator, watching and discussing sports. Then he suffered setbacks, including an accidental fall in the studio that resulted in a traumatic brain injury and a later heart attack. Less obvious but more damaging was the clinical depression that had haunted him since a childhood fraught with abuse, ultimately leading him a few months before his heart attack to peer over the edge of the Tappan Zee Bridge and ponder jumping. This personal account seeks to address his depression in hopes of reaching others, especially African American men like himself who may be hesitant to analyze or discuss their feelings. With the help of counseling and medication, Saunders kept his depression at bay. However, he died shortly after finishing his first draft of this posthumously published memoir. VERDICT For sports fans and anyone who has struggled with depression.—Jim Burns, formerly with Jacksonville P.L., FL
The late ESPN host and commentator recounts years of struggle with mental illness.Saunders (1955-2016) died of what co-writer Bacon (Endzone: The Rise, Fall, and Return of Michigan Football, 2015, etc.) describes as "a combination of enlarged heart, complications from his diabetes, and dysautonomia, which affects the automatic nervous system that regulates breathing, blood pressure, and heart rate." In other words, he died at 61 of what are generally considered natural causes. The hardships Saunders recounts here are of a more existential nature: abused as a child, he grew up dependent on drugs and alcohol, more than once contemplating suicide: "I preferred fantasizing about dying in spectacular fashion than planning how I might actually do it." Though inclined to self-belittlement rather than self-aggrandizement, he was also a formidable hockey player who didn't mind the brutality of the sport. One key passage describes a series of maneuvers that by all rights should have led to banishment: "to understand a cross-check, imagine gripping a broomstick with your hands about three feet apart, then using the middle portion to smash someone's face while he's skating toward you." Deciding he was better suited to the other side of the glass, Saunders worked his way through the ranks of sports reporting and announcing, beginning with a minor station in New Brunswick and ending up at the pinnacle, ESPN. Even there, he writes, he contemplated leaping from the Tappan Zee bridge and ending his unhappiness. Of as much interest as his difficulties are his efforts to overcome illness, from cognitive therapy to medication and hospitalization; some of it worked, at least for a while, but much did not. Saunders writes without much flair but with plenty of awareness. "Depression allows you to have incredible insights into other people's souls yet still be incapable of transferring those insights to your own situation," he writes—though the chief point of his tale is that insight can come, if at a price. A story that merits both sympathy and attention.