Football player-turned-author wants kids to discover the joys of reading

Former NFL star pens sports-related books for middle schoolers

By Alyson Ward, Houston Chronicle

Landon knows the boys behind him are making fun of him.

He can’t hear everything they say, and he knows he shouldn’t turn around: “Nothing good ever came from three boys laughing and gawking, but he felt drawn to it the way he might poke at a bruise to test how much it really hurt.”

Landon’s a seventh-grader who just wants to play football. He’s got the size and the will – but there’s an obstacle in the way, one that has always made him feel like an outsider: He’s deaf, and kids call him Frankenstein and a “giant from outer space” because of the cochlear implants he wears.

That’s where the action starts in Tim Green’s new book for middle graders, “Left Out.” And, like a lot of Green’s fiction for young people, this story was inspired by real life.

For eight years, Green played defense for the Atlanta Falcons. Now he writes suspense novels for adults and chapter books for middle graders. On a book tour a couple of years ago, Green met a young reader in Arkansas named Brett who played football and wore cochlear implants for a hearing impairment. Soon after, in Kentucky, Green met another young athlete with cochlear implants. An idea started to take hold.
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“I was thinking about my next book and thought this would be a great story,” he said – one that would help young readers better understand what it’s like to live with a disability.

Green wanted to understand, too, so he consulted frequently with both the boys while writing “Left Out,” using Skype to ask them questions about their lives at school and in sports.

“Left Out” may be about a kid who has a disability, but “all of my stories have main characters who have something that’s broken in their lives,” Green says. “I’m really passionate about kids becoming kinder people and more understanding of other people through the act of reading.”

Green will talk to young readers in Houston Sunday as part of Inprint’s Cool Brains! reading series for young people, free events that give kids a chance to meet their favorite authors. He’ll talk about sports, writing and – above all – the importance of reading.

After he retired from football in the ’90s, Green started out writing suspense novels for adults. He branched out into kids’ books at the urging of an editor. His first book for children, “Football Genius,” was a bestseller, and he followed that up with more sports-themed chapter books: “Football Hero,” “The Big Time,” “Deep Zone” and several more. He also has set a few stories – “Pinch Hit,” “Baseball Great,” “Best of the Best” – in the world of baseball.

It isn’t hard for Green to capture the voice and tone of middle-grade kids. “That’s a time of my life that’s really vivid,” Green says. Even back then, Green wanted to be a novelist. “I had two dreams,” he says. “One was to play in the NFL; the other to become a writer.”

He studied literature and writing on a football scholarship at Syracuse University, then went to law school in the off-season while playing in the NFL. Now he and his wife have five kids (the youngest is a fourth-grader), he works as a lawyer and he churns out books in his spare time.

Green’s next book will be out in March – “Baseball Genius,” which he co-wrote with Derek Jeter, the former New York Yankee who has made his own post-sports career writing books for kids.

And Green has recruited more pro athletes to help him spread the word about reading. The NFL’s Play 60 campaign urges kids to be physically active for at least 60 minutes a day; Green has added his own campaign, Read 20. With players from six NFL teams, he visits schools to stress the importance of reading at least 20 minutes every day.

“Every day,” he says, young readers (or their parents) will Facebook or email him to say that, while they never had much use for reading before, they simply devour his books. Often those new readers are athletes or sports fans who were drawn in by the lure of a football or baseball story.

“I’m really proud of that,” Green says. “Once a kid has that experience, books take on a whole new meaning.”

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