Tim Keown has been writing so well for so long that we tend to take him for granted. I first noticed him in the mid-1990s when, as a baseball writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, he captured the toxic paradox of Barry Bonds. Since 1999 Keown has written for ESPN the Magazine with quiet elegance — quiet because he tends not to draw attention to himself. He’s not First Take material.
So I was intrigued to read Keown’s “After the NFL” piece, about a former NFL kamikaze, Steve Hendrickson, and about himself. Turns out Keown and Hendrickson share a hometown, Napa, Ca., a legacy of high school football, and concerns about the concussive toll of the game. Turns out they both are proud fathers of children who played, or play, football. This is a carefully rendered piece in which Keown does not personalize the story for the wrong reason — egotism — but for the right ones — depth, perspective and nuance.
As a bonus, Keown gives us a side of Napa largely unseen on our
drunken wine tours through the valley:
“FOR ALL OF its wine-country trappings, for all of the hillside French châteaux and Tuscan villas, Napa has a working-class heart that beats to the tune of a high school marching band on a fall Friday night. It’s a town with cosmopolitan airs but an insular soul. High school football is the last bastion of old-guard Napa, the blue-collar folks who live in neighborhoods like Bel Air and Westwood and Springwood. There’s a stadium in the middle of town that rivals any in Texas, $13 million worth, with 7,500 seats and separate press boxes for Napa and Vintage, the two public high schools in town. The scene at Memorial Stadium is a subconscious rebuttal to the nouveau riche with their $300 cult cabs and effete sensibilities.”