Rumblings Book Review: "The Cookie That Did Not Crumble"

Cookie Gilchrist was extraordinary in every sense of the word. He was a brilliant running back on the football field, and a puzzling and ego-driven man off it. He was a hard-luck business man, a champion of players' rights, and in the end, a compelling vision of the toll that professional football can take on a man.

The Cookie That Did Not Crumble is the posthumous autobiography of Carlton Chester "Cookie" Gilchrist, and is co-authored by Chris Garbarino. A retired NYPD detective, Garbarino was one of Gilchrist's only friends late in the running back's life. Garbarino frames each chapter with one or two paragraphs, setting up what you're about to read and provides the two closing chapters about his time with the enigmatic running back, as well as the findings from tests done following his death from cancer.

The chapters written by Gilchrist were cobbled together from journal entries, manuscripts, recordings, and other writings to tell a chronological story. Gilchrist's words are clear, and center around his football career and his struggles being black in a white man's world. Gilchrist's problems only get worse when his football career leads him to cross paths with legendary NFL coach Paul Brown. When his deal with Brown forces Gilchrist from the NFL and college football ranks, his journey to the Canadian Football League is chronicled in great detail, as is his time in the American Football League.

Throughout his career, Gilchrist was portrayed as hard to deal with and a troublemaker by his team owners, coaches, and the media. He presents his side of each negative story, and it's easy to see why he felt misunderstood and mistreated so frequently. There are several instances where he admits he was in the wrong and shows remorse, even if it's years later that he comes to this conclusion.

The biggest issue that Gilchrist consistently refers to is racism. Even in the northern United States and Canada, whites mistreated Gilchrist, though he mentions several times that his celebrity status probably saved him from even worse treatment. His interracial dating and marriage are the subjects of scorn from fans, and led to several legal issues. Gilchrist even details a harsh incident during the Summer of 1963, where he was accused of assaulting a white Buffalo City police officer. His leadership of the 1964 AFL All-Star game boycott due to racism in the host city of New Orleans is covered, as well.

It's not all tragic, though. Cookie rubbed elbows with some very powerful men, from Sonny Liston to Marvin Gaye, President Lyndon Johnson and teammate and Congressman Jack Kemp. His success on the field was matched by his appetite for life and desire to be successful at every venture.

The final chapter and epilogue are Garbarino's words and recollections. A Facebook friend request leads to a relationship between the two men that culminates in Garbarino being Gilchrist's emergency contact, loan officer, and biographer. These are the only two chapters chronicling anything in the last 25 years, as Gilchrist withdrew from society. Garbarino shows the human side of the weakening ex-player, as well as the demons he lived with every day. He also compellingly shares his own thoughts and feelings about contacting, meeting, and growing close with a legendary football hero.

The epilogue goes into the studies done on Cookie's brain following his death. It details the effects of multiple concussions, and the possible reasons behind his reclusive nature. It's a sad ending, and ultimately a warning to current professional athletes on the dangers of head trauma.

The downside of the book, and Gilchrist himself, is the complete lack of information from 1983 until his time with Garbarino in just the last few years. When the two first met, Garbarino says Gilchrist looked like he weighed 150 pounds. How did he decay into this state? And how did he end up in back in his home state of Pennsylvania? These are questions that go unanswered in the book largely because the information was known only to the conflicted and confused mind of Gilchrist himself.

The book is a good read, and provides information I never knew about Gilchrist - including great stories of his time with the Buffalo Bills and the lifelong friendships he made while with the team. The short chapters focus on one particular event at a time, and make it ideal for reading in short increments - though it doesn't prohibit you from reading in large chunks.

You can buy the book on Amazon, as well as on your e-readers. Make sure to go to the website set up by Gilchrist's family, CookieGilchrist.com, as well.

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