“Playing Hurt: My Journey From Despair to Hope” by John Saunders with John U. Bacon
Sports Broadcasting, ice hockey, memoir, behavioral health
August 8, 2017
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)
This is not a typical memoir of a sports figure. In the very beginning, John Saunders talks about his thoughts of suicide by describing a trip across New York’s Tappan Zee Bridge across the Hudson River. From there, he opens up about the demons that he lived with while battling depression through his entire life until his death in 2016. This memoir written with John U. Bacon is raw, soul-bearing and a book that a reader will have a hard time putting down.
Saunders was an award-winning broadcaster, best known for his work on the ESPN show “The Sports Reporters.” He also covered college football and basketball as well as hockey for the network. The native Canadian was a good hockey player in his youth, eventually playing college hockey in the United States. When an injury and lack of commitment to the game made him realize he had to do something else for a career, he turned to broadcasting and worked in smaller Canadian cities, Toronto and then Baltimore before ESPN.
Through all of this, Saunders was constantly filled with self-doubt and depression. In the book, he talks of the physical abuse he endured from his father and the sexual abuse from a female friend of his parents. He talks of his hurting himself by burning, his troubles with intimacy that resulted in a failed marriage and the constant doubt he had in both his hockey and broadcasting career. He eventually righted himself to have a good career and a loving marriage with two daughters, but even then he battled demons. If he wasn’t doubting himself about being a good father, he sank into depression after reading social media postings criticizing his work. All of this on top of a serious concussion when he blacked out doing a college football show makes his story even more amazing.
What made this book a very gripping read was not only the rawness of this story, but how much he realizes what is happening and yet he feels powerless to control it. He has great respect for the doctors who helped him and much love for not only his wife and daughters but also for his colleagues who showed their support for him as well. It is a powerful work that shows how mental health issues can be hidden from the outside world but can deeply affect the people who are suffering. When Saunders shared his time spent in the psychiatric wing of a hospital and two other patients with whom he formed friendships, it was such a moving message illustrating how people who are suffering share a common bond.
This is a book that must be read – not only to learn more about depression and what it can do, but also to gain an understanding of the man whom many spent each Sunday morning listening to in order to catch up on the sports news. I was always a fan of The Sports Reporters and Saunders, but now I have an even more deep respect for what he did and the legacy he left behind.
I wish to thank Da Capo Press for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
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