Growing Up on the Gridiron: Football, Friendship, and the Tragic Life of Owen Thomas (Hardcover)

Growing Up on the Gridiron: Football, Friendship, and the Tragic Life of Owen Thomas By Vicki Mayk Cover Image
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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.

About the Author

A former reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Vicki Mayk has enjoyed a 35-year career in journalism and public relations. Her love affair with football began at the age of nine, when her father first took her to a Steelers game. Connect with her at and follow her on Twitter (@VickiMayk).

Praise For…

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

“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

“The case of Owen Thomas will rock your world and break your heart. For critics of football, Growing Up on the Gridiron is a vital story to know and share widely. For lovers of football, you have a responsibility to read this book. We must put our heads in the sand no longer, because Owen’s story demonstrates to us all what is truly at stake.”
—Dave Zirin, sports editor, The Nation

“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

“Eloquently written, Growing Up on the Gridiron is a journey inside the unbreakable bonds of football brotherhood and the brains of an extraordinary player. A must-read for every parent whose son is contemplating football and every school that puts young men on the field . . . The real touchdown is confronting gaps in how society can help boys become happier and healthier men.”
—Warren Farrell, PhD, author of The Boy Crisis

“During his brief, spectacular life, Owen Thomas was a devoted son and brother, a beloved and empathetic friend, and a brilliant, ferocious UPenn football captain. Writing with a brisk, fluent style, Mayk depicts his tragic demise in this deeply researched and poignant story with admirable candor and compassion.”
—J. Michael Lennon, author of Norman Mailer: A Double Life

Product Details
ISBN: 9780807021927
ISBN-10: 080702192X
Publisher: Beacon Press
Publication Date: September 1st, 2020
Pages: 200
Language: English