Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Book Reviews: ‘Playing Through the Whistle: Steel, Football, and an American Town’

Sports Illustrated senior writer S.L. Price has created not only a thorough history of high school football in Aliquippa but also a meticulous chronicle of the labor movement and the rise and fall of industrial America.



cover photo courtesy Grove Press

Playing Through the Whistle: Steel, Football, and an American Town
by S. L. Price
Atlantic Monthly Press; $27

In the wake of the presidential election, readers have been turning to several best-selling books to better understand what is happening in America. 

​Arlie Russell Hochschild’s “Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right” and Nancy Isenberg’s “White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America,” in particular, have offered sensitive and intelligent takes on communities in peril. Add to that list a new book from an unexpected genre: sports writing.

Sports Illustrated senior writer S.L. Price has created in “Playing Through the Whistle: Steel, Football, and an American Town,” not only a thorough history of high school football in Aliquippa but also a meticulous chronicle of the labor movement and the rise and fall of industrial America.

In Price’s hands, football is a lens through which to view the shift in America from an agrarian to an industrial economy. 

In the shadow of the Jones and Laughlin steel mills, football began its rise to overtake baseball as our national pastime. 

“Football, with its bone-snapping tackles, minimal protections, and masses toiling in syncopated fury ... It channeled frustration, rewarded power. It fed and fed off the ethos of factory, mill, and mine. It demanded — like the production line and labor union — the sublimation of individual want to group need. Muddy, bloody and raw, football felt more like the life now unfolding at ground level in Western Pennsylvania: bodies punished in a fight for the slightest edge, with money, so often, dictating the terms.” (p.18-19)

The journey of the Aliquippa High School football team from scrappy but perpetual losers to national powerhouse – graduating NFL legends Mike Ditka and Darrelle Revis – mirrors the rise of Aliquippa as a worker’s paradise where “for the first time a particular type of man and woman – lower-middle class, lacking college education, and with little more to offer than a foreign accent, muscle and sweat – could stick out a steel-toe boot and gain a foothold on the American Dream.” (p.124)

The collapse of the steel industry in the 1980s, however, had a disastrous effect on Aliquippa. The local economy cratered, the population dwindled and crime increased. Football may still be king, but little else is certain. S.L. Price gives Aliquippa a chance to tell its own story in these pages. And an important story it is. “Playing Through the Whistle: Steel, Football, and an American Town” illustrates what happens when we allow communities like Aliquippa to become merely outliers to the American Dream.
For an excellent companion piece check out Robert S. Dorsett’s “Lost Steel Plants of the Monongahela River Valley.” 

​Dorsett gathers a stunning collection of his own photographs documenting the demise and decay of the mills — the Edgar Thomson Plant, Carrie Furnace and Jones and Laughlin, among others — from the 1980s through to today.
 



 


photo courtesy hurston/wright foundation
 

Speak Up
Feb. 22 / Yona Harvey is an assistant professor in the writing program at the University of Pittsburgh and a poet whose collection “Hemming the Water” won the 2014 Kate Tufts Discovery Award. She’s perhaps better known these days as a co-writer of “World of Wakanda,” a spinoff of the best-selling Black Panther series from Marvel Comics. Harvey reads from her poetry as part of the Coffee House Reading Series. (Barnes & Noble Cafe, 600 Forbes Ave., Downtown; 412-434-6626, friedj@duq.edu)
 


photo courtesy Tom Atwood
 

Feb. 23 / Maggie Nelson won a National Book Critics Circle Award last year for her memoir “The Argonauts.” Experimental in form and emotionally acute, “The Argonauts” is a meditation on pregnancy, motherhood and gender. Writing in the New York Times Book Review, critic Jennifer Szalai observed, “So much writing about motherhood makes the world seem smaller after the child arrives, more circumscribed, as if in tacit fealty to the larger cultural assumptions about moms and domesticity; Nelson’s book does the opposite.” (Frick Fine Arts Auditorium, Oakland; 412-624-6508, pghwriterseries.wordpress.com)
 

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit Module Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Latest

The 5 Best Seats at PPG Paints Arena

From ultra-premium experiences to bargains with great views, here are five perfect places to watch the Pens.

Lawrenceville Distilling Co. Introduces Its Absinthe

Already known for its Parking Chair vodka, the Lawrenceville distillery introduces absinthe named for a haunted house.

What Brought Walt Disney to Pittsburgh

A futuristic attraction at the Allegheny County Fair drew a curious Walt Disney to Pittsburgh — and had a lasting impact on modern transportation.

Writer Damon Young on "What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker"

The co-founder of Very Smart Brothas chats about his new memoir — and the state of Pittsburgh.

Makeup Makers: More Beauty Brands are Coming out of Pittsburgh

A pair of local businesses are breaking into the health and beauty business with innovation and tenacity.

How Well Do You Know Pittsburgh?

What do you know about the fountain of youth in North Park? The relics at St. Anthony’s? The history of Pittsburghese? We bring you all this and more in our guide to Pittsburgh lore full of insider info and fun facts. Plus, take our quizzes to test your expertise of all things Pittsburgh.

Are You a Yinzer or a Pretender?

Whether you’ve lived in Pittsburgh your whole life or are a newcomer, there may be things you don’t know about our city — but you should –– so we have these quizzes to test your knowledge of the city’s pop culture, sports, food history and locales.

Restaurant Review: Northeastern Kitchen

The Squirrel Hill restaurant introduces Pittsburgh to Dongbei cuisine.

PM on KD: The Spring Weddings Issue

PM Content Coordinator Jesseca Muslin appears on KDKA's Pittsburgh Today Live to discuss our spring weddings issue.

Pens Need More from Malkin More Than Anything

Given what he’s capable of, and what we’ve too often seen instead, Evgeni Malkin has been the Pens’ most under-achieving player.

Pittsburgh's 12 Essential Restaurants

Step-by-step, these establishments helped build our dining scene. Even better, they still have something to offer today.

Finding a Unique Performer Close to Home

Pittsburgh Playwrights Theater Company searched across the country for a key role in “Savior Samuel.” Then they found Aaliyah Sanders — in Edgewood.

Ten Thoughts While Staring at a Golden Eagle

Reflections upon encountering Autumn, a four-year-old golden eagle now residing at the National Aviary.

Love Thy Neighbor: Donating a Second Chance

Rachelle Jeffers and Allen ‘Bud’ Mitchell went to church together but they weren’t close. That changed when she found out he would die unless he found a liver donor. That’s how Jeffers became one of a growing number of living liver donors.

Our 50 Years: Rules for Dating in Pittsburgh in 1984

We took a serious look at romance. But with advice ranging from making sure restaurants have seductive lighting to the benefits of owning your own mansion, was it really meant to be serious?
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags


Finding a Unique Performer Close to Home

Finding a Unique Performer Close to Home

Pittsburgh Playwrights Theater Company searched across the country for a key role in “Savior Samuel.” Then they found Aaliyah Sanders — in Edgewood.

Comments

Love at First Bite? Primanti’s Offers to Pay for Your Wedding

Love at First Bite? Primanti’s Offers to Pay for Your Wedding

The offer comes with a few strings attached.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Lawrenceville Distilling Co. Introduces Its Absinthe

Lawrenceville Distilling Co. Introduces Its Absinthe

Already known for its Parking Chair vodka, the Lawrenceville distillery introduces absinthe named for a haunted house.

Comments

Pittsburgh Pizza News: DiAnoia’s to Open Pizzeria Davide

Pittsburgh Pizza News: DiAnoia’s to Open Pizzeria Davide

The popular Strip District eatery is set to expand with a to-go pizza counter.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The 5 Best Seats at PPG Paints Arena

The 5 Best Seats at PPG Paints Arena

From ultra-premium experiences to bargains with great views, here are five perfect places to watch the Pens.

Comments

Fitness: Five Great Trails to Run in the Fall in Pittsburgh

Fitness: Five Great Trails to Run in the Fall in Pittsburgh

Don’t resign yourself to the gym treadmills just yet – fall is one of the best times of the year to get outside and pound the pavement, surrounded by falling leaves and the possibility of grabbing a hot latte on the way home.

Comments


Ten Thoughts While Staring at a Golden Eagle

Ten Thoughts While Staring at a Golden Eagle

Reflections upon encountering Autumn, a four-year-old golden eagle now residing at the National Aviary.

Comments

Landmark Concert Revives Spirituals on the Hill

Landmark Concert Revives Spirituals on the Hill

The Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh and Ebenezer Baptist Church team up for "Let My People Go! A Spiritual Journey on the Underground Railroad."

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Pens Need More from Malkin More Than Anything

Pens Need More from Malkin More Than Anything

Given what he’s capable of, and what we’ve too often seen instead, Evgeni Malkin has been the Pens’ most under-achieving player.

Comments

Even Brady, Belichick Still Take a Back Seat to Lombardi

Even Brady, Belichick Still Take a Back Seat to Lombardi

Appreciating the Patriots requires a healthy dose of historical perspective.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The 400-Word Review: Happy Death Day 2U

The 400-Word Review: Happy Death Day 2U

The horror sequel pivots in unexpected directions, for better and for worse.

Comments

The 400-Word Review: Alita: Battle Angel

The 400-Word Review: Alita: Battle Angel

Producer James Cameron and Director Robert Rodriguez team up for a sci-fi epic depressingly similar to a dozen others.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
An Email Spam Filter Delayed their Relationship for Years

An Email Spam Filter Delayed their Relationship for Years

Sometimes, the future love of your life is just around the corner, whether you know it or not.

Comments

How Many Steps Would You Climb for Unique Wedding Photos?

How Many Steps Would You Climb for Unique Wedding Photos?

Pittsburgh has 739 sets of public staircases, and you can get photographs on them that are just as breathtaking as the ones you could get on more iconic spots like Mt. Washington.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Upscale Townhouses Slated for Strip District Near Produce Terminal

Upscale Townhouses Slated for Strip District Near Produce Terminal

Part of a three-phase plan, the 3- and 4-bedroom townhouses range in price from the mid-$600,000s up to $1 million.

Comments

Pittsburgh Textile Designer Launches Chic Wallpaper Line

Pittsburgh Textile Designer Launches Chic Wallpaper Line

Savannah Hayes adds six new wallpaper designs to her line of throw blankets, accessories and tea towels.

Comments