Review by Budd Bailey
The popularity of the book that has the theme of “a stranger in a strange land” continues.
After all, how better to describe the exploits of someone who grew up on the mean streets of South Central Los Angeles … and then went to Columbia University?
That’s our star in this case, Marcellus Wiley. The ex-NFL standout and television personality writes about his unusual life story in “Never Shut Up.” Considering the title, you’d think it would run more than a brisk 280 pages.
Wiley certainly has gone down a different path. His family back in Los Angeles did not really feature a broken home, but it was a little injured thanks to a father who wasn’t around all the time. Still, Mom and Sis took care of Marcellus, who soon discovered two important facts about himself. One, he liked to learn. Two, he liked to play football.
Those two factors helped him switch high schools a couple of times. They also helped him get into college for football. He wasn’t really good enough yet to get the attention of the college football factories. He also was smart enough to know that an Ivy League diploma was a good way to guarantee success if Plan A – the National Football League – didn’t quite work out. Wiley apparently had street smarts to go with his academic talents.
Wiley eventually became noticed by football scouts, and was picked in the second round by the Buffalo Bills in 1997. He spent four years with the Bills, three of them watching Hall of Famer Bruce Smith and one of them taking a starting job. Then free agency arrives, and Wiley cashed in with a contract worth more than $40 million with the Chargers. That’s life-changing money, and Marcellus did exactly that with his family.
From there, Wiley had moments of success. He was named to the Pro Bowl in 2001. On the other hand, injuries started to become a problem. After all, every play for a defensive lineman is the equivalent of a car crash, and his medical problems started to mount up. Marcellus played three seasons with the Chargers, followed by one in Dallas and two in Jacksonville.
Wiley wasn’t quite sure what he was going to do after leaving the NFL, but he didn’t have to search for the ultimate answer. It came to him in the form of a phone call from ESPN. He eased into some broadcasting duties there, and then moved over to Fox Sports for similar work. It seems as if he’s doing fine there. The book closes by noting that he played in an era where pharmaceuticals such as pain-killers were sometimes handed out like M&M’s, and he’s paying the price now for gulping them down. Remember, this wasn’t the 1970s – it was less than 25 years or so ago.
That’s an unusual story. Heck, it’s almost unique. So that’s a good framework for an autobiography. Wiley knows he’s beaten some odds to get where he is today. He also come across as a likeable personality, someone who enjoys good times and who is not afraid to admit some of his mistakes. That’s going to be more than enough to convince people to read this book.
The downside here is that this is more or less centered only on Marcellus. Any personalities encountered along the way don’t receive much attention. For example, Bruce Smith comes up in the chapter about Wiley’s stay in part because he offered Marcellus some playing tips, and in part because Wiley couldn’t resist taking a pair of Smith’s shoes. I don’t think Marv Levy’s name is ever mentioned. So it goes through his trip through the NFL.
For the record, Buffalo takes a couple of shots for its dull nightlife here, although Marcellus seems like the type of person who can figure out how to have fun anywhere. The stories about those attempts, and successes, certainly come across as authentic – if more Compton than Columbia.
It’s easy to see how “Never Shut Up” found an audience. His story will be inspirational to some, and fun to many. It just might not be for everyone – someone looking for more football and less lifestyle can move along. That’s fine; I’ll bet that someone who writes a book with that particular title will have more to say in print down the road.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)