On December 2, 1996, 64-year-old college football coach Joe Moore found out that he wouldn”t be returning to coach Notre Dame football”s offensive line once his contract ran out. This is a normal occurrence in sports, but in coach Moore”s case, something was wrong. According to Moore, head coach Bob Davie refused to keep him on staff because of Moore”s age.

Paul Wong
Courtesy of Academy Chicago Publishers

Moore turned to Richard Lieberman, an attorney who generally only represents corporations. But he made an exception to take the case of Moore against Notre Dame, a considerable giant in the sports world. “Personal Foul” is Lieberman”s account of his struggles to bring Moore”s case to trial and secure the coach a reward against the football powerhouse.

When “objectivity” is mentioned, the first word to come to mind is definitely not “attorney.” Lieberman even states in his introduction that he is telling Moore”s side of the story, and invites Notre Dame to disclose its side. This was a wise thing to do, because to present this account as anything more than one-sided would have been a joke. It”s surprising how everybody associated with the Moore family is “warm” and everybody connected with Notre Dame, including new offensive line coach Jim Colletto and Father William Beauchamp, the Notre Dame executive in charge of the athletic department, is a slimeball.

Lieberman saves his best mudslinging for coach Davie. The impression the reader gets from Lieberman and Moore is one of a Bill Clinton-esque politician, a man around whom you must watch your back. With each casual mention of a Notre Dame loss, each contradiction at trial, the fearless attorney sticks another skewer in the handsome but evil football coach. By the end of the book, it”s amazing this man isn”t imprisoned for cruelty!

Without the objectivity an author can normally provide, the work relies on two foundations: Lieberman”s writing skills and the suspense of the trial. The trial is indeed quite fascinating, as are the events via the media and in court leading up to the actual trial. Lieberman”s writing, however, leaves something to be desired. Besides overplaying the David vs. Goliath issue, something a fun legal author like John Grisham would try to avoid, Lieberman also tends to let his emotion seep through and bog down his narrative. Using football metaphors to rally troops is fine, but readers don”t need these heavy handed literary devices to see that he is defending the little guy from the forces of athletic evil.

But if Davie is the devil in disguise, then Joe Moore must be a saint, right? Well, maybe, maybe not. Moore did have some blemishes on his record (Lieberman, like a good lawyer, glosses over these blemishes), which proves what every sports fan should know: There are no angels in athletics college or pro. This seems to be the lesson everyone should take away from this book. It”s sad, but also necessary, to remind sports buffs that behind the scenes not everything is as rosy as it seems in the stands or on TV. It was pretty much certain that, whether or not Notre Dame won the trial (I won”t spoil the ending for those who aren”t aware of the decision), it lost simply by having its dirty laundry exposed.

In the end, the book is probably worth a read for the sake of learning about some interesting litigation. Age discrimination is a difficult case to prove. Convincing non-sports fans to pick up the book will be difficult, although Lieberman does do a fair job explaining the football jargon. “Personal Foul” is a fair read, but hardly stands out from the pack, save for its authenticity.

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