• Growing Up on the Gridiron

  • Football, Friendship, and the Tragic Life of Owen Thomas
  • By: Vicki Mayk
  • Narrated by: Brian Conover
  • Length: 5 hrs and 17 mins
  • 4.4 out of 5 stars (5 ratings)

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Growing Up on the Gridiron  By  cover art

Growing Up on the Gridiron

By: Vicki Mayk
Narrated by: Brian Conover
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Publisher's summary

Explores the experience of one young man and the concerns about CTE he helped to illuminate, and the cultural allure of football in America that keeps boys trying to make the team despite the dangers

Award-winning journalist Vicki Mayk raises a critical question for football players and their communities: Does loving a sport justify risking your life? This is the insightful and deeply human story of Owen Thomas - a star football player at Penn, who took his own life when he was 21, the result of the pain and anguish caused by chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

It was Owen's landmark case which demonstrated that a player didn't need years of head bashing in the NFL, or even multiple sustained brain concussions, to cause the mind-altering, life-threatening, degenerative disease known as CTE. And Owen's case could not have come to light without Dr. Ann McKee, the neuropathologist who bucked conventional wisdom, and the football establishment, as she examined Owen's brain and its larger significance, building an ever-stronger case that said, at the very least, football should not be played by children under the age of 14.

With its focus on a single life and the community touched by it - Owen's family, his teammates and friends, his teachers and coaches, and, later, Dr. McKee - Growing Up on the Gridiron explores the place of football in our lives. It doesn't make a heavy-handed argument to abandon the sport. Rather, it explores why football matters so deeply to many young men, and why they continue to take risks despite the evidence of serious, long-term harm.

©2020 Vicki Mayk (P)2020 Random House Audio

Critic reviews

"There have been other books about football and concussions, but none quite like this. In Vicki Mayk’s hands, the tragic story of Owen Thomas is simultaneously a cautionary tale about playing the game and a love letter to a sport that means so much to so many young players. Deftly walking that fine line, Mayk produces a main character you won’t soon forget.” (John Eisenberg, author of The League: How Rivals Created the NFL and Launched a Sports Empire)

“Vicki Mayk’s compelling book should be a wake-up call for all involved in youth football - coaches, parents, and players. Not a predictable diatribe, Growing Up on the Gridiron is beautifully written and nuanced yet completely frightening for those concerned about our children’s brains.” (Mark Hyman, author of Until It Hurts: America’s Obsession with Youth Sports and How It Harms Our Kids

“Mayk seamlessly integrates details of CTE into this moving story of a family who lost a son.” (Booklist)

What listeners say about Growing Up on the Gridiron

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A CTE Interventionist's Perspective

This story honors Owen Thomas well. It also perpetuates the sociocultural narrative which exalts violence. When it is mentioned that 99% of football players don't get CTE, we wonder why. Genetics, perhaps. Rehab processes and lifestyle choices following head trauma, probably. Social conditioning to venerate and utilize outward violence as the narrow end of the funnel through which we are taught to filter the majority of our internal emotions and experiences...the research on this topic is going to be invaluable in making sense of the valid correlative findings of the brain researchers.

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Super Interesting!

I enjoyed this book very much. Having boys who are just a bit younger, they played sports, ice hockey and soccer in the Lehigh Valley so I could relate to this story. Even though they didnt play football, this could have happened to anyone playing contact sports so it is great that organizations take measures now to help prevent CTE and head traumas in athletes, in any age group, and that stories like this are told for education and further research.
Great story of love and camaraderie amongst fellow athletes, which is so important. There are always risks in anything we do but people have to follow their passions and play hard at sports (if that is their love), but learning and being safe can be an accepted part of the game too!

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For the rookie

If you have never heard of football or CTE, this book is for you. The first half of the book spends time discussing football, football’s popularity, and CTE. The second half does a better job focusing on Owen, his story, and the tragic tale of a young player dying of CTE without a significant concussion, but due to numerous subconcussive hits.

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