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Love, Zac: Small-Town Football and the Life and Death of an American Boy

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“I just can’t live with this pain anymore,” were among the final words in the diary of Zac Easter, a young man from small-town Iowa. In December 2015, Zac decided to take his own life rather than continue his losing battle against the traumatic brain injuries he had sustained as a no-holds-barred high school football player. In this deeply reported and powerfully moving tr “I just can’t live with this pain anymore,” were among the final words in the diary of Zac Easter, a young man from small-town Iowa. In December 2015, Zac decided to take his own life rather than continue his losing battle against the traumatic brain injuries he had sustained as a no-holds-barred high school football player. In this deeply reported and powerfully moving true story, award-winning sportswriter Reid Forgrave speaks to Zac’s family, friends, and coaches; he explores Zac’s tightly knit, football-obsessed Midwestern community; he interviews cutting-edge brain scientists, psychologists, and sports historians; and he takes a deep dive into the triumphs and sins of the sports entertainment industry. Forgrave shows us how football mirrors America, from the fighting spirit it has helped inscribe in our national character to the problematic side effects of traditional notions of manhood that it affirms. But, above all, this is a story of how one young man’s obsession with football led him and many of those entrusted with his care to ignore the warning signs of CTE until it was too late. What do Zac’s life and death mean for a society addicted to a sport that can be thrilling and character forming but also dangerous and sometimes tragic for those who play it? Eye-opening, important, and ultimately inspiring, Love, Zac challenges us to think carefully about the ideals and values we as a nation want to instill in future generations.


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“I just can’t live with this pain anymore,” were among the final words in the diary of Zac Easter, a young man from small-town Iowa. In December 2015, Zac decided to take his own life rather than continue his losing battle against the traumatic brain injuries he had sustained as a no-holds-barred high school football player. In this deeply reported and powerfully moving tr “I just can’t live with this pain anymore,” were among the final words in the diary of Zac Easter, a young man from small-town Iowa. In December 2015, Zac decided to take his own life rather than continue his losing battle against the traumatic brain injuries he had sustained as a no-holds-barred high school football player. In this deeply reported and powerfully moving true story, award-winning sportswriter Reid Forgrave speaks to Zac’s family, friends, and coaches; he explores Zac’s tightly knit, football-obsessed Midwestern community; he interviews cutting-edge brain scientists, psychologists, and sports historians; and he takes a deep dive into the triumphs and sins of the sports entertainment industry. Forgrave shows us how football mirrors America, from the fighting spirit it has helped inscribe in our national character to the problematic side effects of traditional notions of manhood that it affirms. But, above all, this is a story of how one young man’s obsession with football led him and many of those entrusted with his care to ignore the warning signs of CTE until it was too late. What do Zac’s life and death mean for a society addicted to a sport that can be thrilling and character forming but also dangerous and sometimes tragic for those who play it? Eye-opening, important, and ultimately inspiring, Love, Zac challenges us to think carefully about the ideals and values we as a nation want to instill in future generations.

30 review for Love, Zac: Small-Town Football and the Life and Death of an American Boy

  1. 4 out of 5

    Geoff

    Heartbreaking. The human toll of football is tragic enough when it's professionals have early cognitive decline, but when it's a bright, personable kid whose thinks his "brain is turning to mush" and takes his life? Heart. Breaking. This was a wonderful portrait of Zac's life, his family's life, his community, and how football has touched and affected all of it. The book strays when it moves away from this personal story (the chapters on CTE, the NFL, and the history of brain injuries have been d Heartbreaking. The human toll of football is tragic enough when it's professionals have early cognitive decline, but when it's a bright, personable kid whose thinks his "brain is turning to mush" and takes his life? Heart. Breaking. This was a wonderful portrait of Zac's life, his family's life, his community, and how football has touched and affected all of it. The book strays when it moves away from this personal story (the chapters on CTE, the NFL, and the history of brain injuries have been done better elsewhere) but when it focuses on Zac and his slow, terrifying decline it is riveting. The other really interesting thing about this book is that that is touches on individual and community and it asks a question that is larger than football. How does a community react (and can it change) when something that is so central to a community's identity turns out to have negative effects on that very community. As I get a notification on my phone of the arrival of another two-day shipped package and type this to be stored on a server in a carbon-spewing data center, it's a question that haunts me. What am I willing to do to change my life when my lifestyle and the things I hold dear turn out to be worse for all of us? **Thanks to the author, publisher, and NetGalley for a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Lance

    Anyone who follows American football knows that the risk of concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a topic of much discussion and debate. This story of a former high school football star who suffered from those conditions to point of committing suicide is a powerful book by Reid Forgrave. Zac Easter came from a football-loving family. Every male in the family played, coached and watched football. The culture of the sport and the masculinity that was supposedly enhanced by the s Anyone who follows American football knows that the risk of concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a topic of much discussion and debate. This story of a former high school football star who suffered from those conditions to point of committing suicide is a powerful book by Reid Forgrave. Zac Easter came from a football-loving family. Every male in the family played, coached and watched football. The culture of the sport and the masculinity that was supposedly enhanced by the sport was an important part of the Easter household. Zac was certainly a member of this culture as he was a star player through high school, earning several awards. The only break he made from the family when it came to football was that he was a Green Bay Packers fan while the rest of the family cheered for their rivals, the Minnesota Vikings. However, Zac's time wasn't all glory and fun. Forgrave gradually shows the reader some of the issues Zac was facing when all of the hits he took, especially to the head as he would often lead with his head against coaching instructions. He would fight with the team's female trainer when she wanted him to give him his helmet, a sign that he will not return to the game. His moods became darker. The book continues after his playing days to paint a great picture of the issued Zac faced with alcoholism, hypersexuality, headaches, mood swings and inability to hold jobs or focus on college courses. It led to his suicide which wasn't a surprise ending, but one that the reader will still feel stunned when it happens. That is what makes the book so powerful. Yes, the author did his research in the topics of football, helmet design, CTE and its effects and even in-depth interviews with the Easters. But what makes the book truly a worthwhile endeavor is simply the emotions of everyone involved – from Zac to his family to his girlfriend (who stayed with him to the end) to his shocked teammates. While some people, including this reviewer, do believe that he brought some of his issues on himself by refusing to adhere to the instructions to not lead with the head, it still boils down to the loss of a young life due to a danger in a sport that is by far the most popular in the United States. I wish to thank Algoquin Books for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. https://sportsbookguy.blogspot.com/20...

  3. 4 out of 5

    Marika

    This is a raw, emotional goodbye letter from a young man who loved football more than anything. Most people today are aware of the debilitating brain disorder called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in former football players. Zac Easter and his family didn't. Zac was a hometown hero from a close knit family whose life revolved around football. In fact, Zac's entire identity could be found on the football field. Sadly, Zac began to have symptoms of CTE as early as High School, but continue This is a raw, emotional goodbye letter from a young man who loved football more than anything. Most people today are aware of the debilitating brain disorder called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in former football players. Zac Easter and his family didn't. Zac was a hometown hero from a close knit family whose life revolved around football. In fact, Zac's entire identity could be found on the football field. Sadly, Zac began to have symptoms of CTE as early as High School, but continued to deny it to his parents and his trainers. The author was granted access to Zac's diary where Zac described his worsening brain symptoms: debilitating headaches, impaired memory and depression. This is an important book that parents whose children want to play football should read. Heartbreaking yet informative. * I read an advance copy and was not compensated

  4. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    This was excellent, tragic, eye-opening, and gut-wrenching. The work explores the role of football in American culture and the future of football in light of CTE and other concussion based trauma and damage. These two themes center around the life of Zac Easter. An Iowa football player. The story follows Zac’s youth and high school career and exposes the dangers of football and the dedication Americans have to it. After finishing this book, the reader is left to question why football persists in This was excellent, tragic, eye-opening, and gut-wrenching. The work explores the role of football in American culture and the future of football in light of CTE and other concussion based trauma and damage. These two themes center around the life of Zac Easter. An Iowa football player. The story follows Zac’s youth and high school career and exposes the dangers of football and the dedication Americans have to it. After finishing this book, the reader is left to question why football persists in popularity despite the risks, how it is ingrained in the American psyche, and what it is about the sport that galvanized communities. Most of all the book is the tragic story of Zac and how he represents the contradictions of football in the U.S.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Carissa

    This is a powerful book on the lengths players will go to play and succeed at football. Although Zac recognized there was a problem, he hid it from his coaches and trainers in order to not be seen as weak or be pulled out of games. The injuries they fight and will continue to ignore until damage becomes irreversible and serious. Life or career ending injuries. I used to love football, but the crunches i heard as players hit each other hard, the head-to-head contact, and the positions players lan This is a powerful book on the lengths players will go to play and succeed at football. Although Zac recognized there was a problem, he hid it from his coaches and trainers in order to not be seen as weak or be pulled out of games. The injuries they fight and will continue to ignore until damage becomes irreversible and serious. Life or career ending injuries. I used to love football, but the crunches i heard as players hit each other hard, the head-to-head contact, and the positions players landed in at the bottom of a pile often made me cringe. Football players, at the very least, suffer a long life beyond football dealing with injuries, arthritis, and at worst death due to injuries. This is the tragic story of Zac, a young player, who developed a severe brain injury that altered him so much it changed his personality completely and he was mentally and emotionally tortured to the point he could no longer take it and committed suicide. The awareness of concussion related injuries in sports is finally being recognized, making players think more about whether to pursue that as a career or not. It is more dangerous on the brain than previously acknowledged and also more common, not just in football, but in many other sports as well. Related in some ways to "Concussion" which came out several years ago, this book addresses a crucial point. Is the damage to the body worth it for the sake of entertainment?

  6. 4 out of 5

    Dedra ~ A Book Wanderer

    Despite sitting in the stands for four consecutive years in high school as a member of my school's marching band--this doesn't even include the years I attended games before and after high school--I still don't understand all the logistics of football. My very math-averse brain just doesn't understand (or care) about all the minute rules. But I did grow up in a small-town where Friday Night Lights was king. And that's what drew me to Love, Zac. This memoir is a heartbreaking look at how multiple Despite sitting in the stands for four consecutive years in high school as a member of my school's marching band--this doesn't even include the years I attended games before and after high school--I still don't understand all the logistics of football. My very math-averse brain just doesn't understand (or care) about all the minute rules. But I did grow up in a small-town where Friday Night Lights was king. And that's what drew me to Love, Zac. This memoir is a heartbreaking look at how multiple concussions sustained playing high school football led Zac Easter to endure traumatic brain injuries and ultimately commit suicide at the age of twenty-four years old. Along with telling Zac's story, the author takes the reader back to the beginnings of football, the history of awareness of concussions, and how--like so many controversies in America today--the concussion crisis has became more about politics and money than health and science. And if all that isn't enough, the author also touches on how we're raising our boys. The 'play through the pain' mentality boys are instilled with. Zac was the middle son of a football-obsessed family. He felt like to make his father proud, he had to play football and play it well. So he hid his pain, not wanting to appear weak or less manly. It's just another consequence to add to the long list of ways toxic masculinity has damaged our culture. This book was inspired from Zac's own words, the journals, texts, and instructions he left to his friends and family. He wanted his story told, hoping no one else would ever have to suffer the way he did. I hope this eye-opening memoir gets the attention it deserves. I know, personally, I will never watch football in the same way again. Thank you to Algonquin Books for the advanced reader copy! Full review available at abookwanderer.com

  7. 4 out of 5

    Sam

    Zac Easter is a fun loving, outgoing all american boy who plays high school football. After one too many hits to the head and countless concussions he is forced to quit playing the game his whole family loves. Feeling as though he has failed his dad he keeps quiet about all the dizzy spells, headaches, brain spasms. As his condition gets worse he fights depression, alcoholism and drug abuse til at age 24 he can't go on and Zac takes his life. It turns out Zac suffers from CTE (chronic traumatic Zac Easter is a fun loving, outgoing all american boy who plays high school football. After one too many hits to the head and countless concussions he is forced to quit playing the game his whole family loves. Feeling as though he has failed his dad he keeps quiet about all the dizzy spells, headaches, brain spasms. As his condition gets worse he fights depression, alcoholism and drug abuse til at age 24 he can't go on and Zac takes his life. It turns out Zac suffers from CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) from all the concussions he received from playing football. This is such a sad story and I felt so sorry for Zac who felt like he had no where to go and no one to turn to. This is a must read for anyone who has kids who want to play football. If the dad had stepped up and told Zac to sit out after his first concussion instead of having the "real men shake it off" mentality, if he would have got Zac the help he needed there might have been a long life ahead for Zac. In no way though is it just the parents at fault because some of the blame has to lay with Zac who consistently lied about his condition. This story will stay with me for a long time. I received this book from LibraryThing Early Reviewer for an honest review

  8. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    What a very powerful book this was! Love, Zac is the biography of Zac Easter, a young man who died by suicide at the age of 24 after losing his battle with TBI and CTE caused by too many concussions playing youth and high school football. The book was more than just biography, it also dove in to the history of the sport of football and the culture that surrounds it. Vince Lombardi, one of the great names associated with the sport, said "It's not whether you get knocked down, it's whether you get What a very powerful book this was! Love, Zac is the biography of Zac Easter, a young man who died by suicide at the age of 24 after losing his battle with TBI and CTE caused by too many concussions playing youth and high school football. The book was more than just biography, it also dove in to the history of the sport of football and the culture that surrounds it. Vince Lombardi, one of the great names associated with the sport, said "It's not whether you get knocked down, it's whether you get up." This would end up being prophetic with many young athletes who get their "bell rung" but still end up playing the rest of the game. Football wasn't really bin in the town where I grew up, we had no high school football team, but reading about the history and tradition of the Easter family in Iowa I can see how it becomes something that can really bond a family, especially fathers and sons. In this book you'll learn a lot about the history of the game of football - including Teddy Roosevelt's role in saving the game and attempting to make it a bit safer. I gasped a couple of time while reading this, hearing how hard Zac would hit the opponent, especially when he shared he hit an opponent head first after his helmet had already flown off following an earlier tough hit. Reading this book comes at an interesting time. I'm a football fan (Go Patriots!) and am looking forward to the season as perhaps a slice of normalcy, but the start of Suicide Awareness Week is just around the corner and that is on my mind as well. As those two events seem a bit at odds, the Easter's family's feelings on football are nuanced and confusing as well. They love the game, it's in their blood, but they have anger that it's part of the reason Zac is no longer alive. This is a powerful read and would recommend it to nearly anyone, especially those wishing to learn more about the sport, mental illness, TBI, and CTE.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Erin

    This is a heartbreaking and eye-opening look at a young football player whose life ends in tragedy after suffering from CTE. Some sections of the book that dwelled on the history of football felt a tad boring to me (as a non-sports fan), but the book felt truly captivating when the author included Zac's own words (found in journals he kept before his death). Because our nation is so obsessed with football, it worries me that a lot more lives will need to be ruined before anyone makes steadfast c This is a heartbreaking and eye-opening look at a young football player whose life ends in tragedy after suffering from CTE. Some sections of the book that dwelled on the history of football felt a tad boring to me (as a non-sports fan), but the book felt truly captivating when the author included Zac's own words (found in journals he kept before his death). Because our nation is so obsessed with football, it worries me that a lot more lives will need to be ruined before anyone makes steadfast changes to the sport. Zac's story needs to be told so that parents can understand the incredible danger of playing football - even if their sons only play through high school. The long-lasting damage that can occur to the brain are devastating and permanent. Zac's family was so brave for sharing his story, and it's what Zac wanted - for everyone to know the truth about his struggles and his death.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Glenda

    It was fitting to receive this giveaway win at the beginning of football season.  Zac Easter was a young man who grew up with football being a major influence in his life.  By the age of 24, after playing only through junior and senior high school, he was suffering from severe depression, manic emotional states, substance abuse, and physical pain; he committed suicide to escape.  The main culprit:  CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), a deterioration of the brain believed to be caused by mult It was fitting to receive this giveaway win at the beginning of football season.  Zac Easter was a young man who grew up with football being a major influence in his life.  By the age of 24, after playing only through junior and senior high school, he was suffering from severe depression, manic emotional states, substance abuse, and physical pain; he committed suicide to escape.  The main culprit:  CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), a deterioration of the brain believed to be caused by multiple concussions, and normally only seen in older NFL players after years of hits to the head.  Forgrave not only gives us Zac's story through his journal entries and family interviews. but takes a look at the football culture in America.  It's a sport with a violent history, promoting the attitude of playing through the pain.  But at what cost?  Well researched and highly readable.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Sheri

    Love, Zac: Small-Town Football and the Life and Death of an American Boy by Reid Forgrave The True story of Zac Easter, a twenty four year old Iowa (young) man who took his life in December 2105. Zac was a young energetic football player. He suffered many concussions during his life while playing football. His life takes a turn in many ways, including alcohol and drug abuse as he learns he has CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy). Ultimately this lead to him take his own life. A fact filled hear Love, Zac: Small-Town Football and the Life and Death of an American Boy by Reid Forgrave The True story of Zac Easter, a twenty four year old Iowa (young) man who took his life in December 2105. Zac was a young energetic football player. He suffered many concussions during his life while playing football. His life takes a turn in many ways, including alcohol and drug abuse as he learns he has CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy). Ultimately this lead to him take his own life. A fact filled heart breaking story of how football lead to the demise of a young man. With medical experts, football (experts), family members statements, and the words from Zac's personal journals, texts and emails. Told with brutal honestly and compassion Mr Forgrave brings up (the) once unheard of CTE, and the affects on those who suffer from it and the impact on family as well. I strongly suggest this book to; young adults, adults, football players, parents of football players, young football players and those considering getting into this rough and tough sport. Love, Zac: Small-Town Football and the Life and Death of an American Boy is a heart felt memorable read, that has me thinking of football in a new light. A must read.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Hannah Beeler

    Zac is a son, brother, classmate, friend, and boyfriend (the list goes on) with a heartbreaking story that needs to be shared. Needs to be read.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Kim Raso

    Zac’s story will stay with me for a very long time- powerful for its heartbreaking Truth... and its touches just a bit too close to home.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Sean Musselman

    The book expectedly conjures conflicting feelings so many of us endure about football in our communities, children, and ourselves. The book strikes a balanced tone, illustrating the nuance so many participants and supporters hold for football (or hockey as is more prevalent here in the Northeast). As a father of two energetic, physical boys who will undoubtedly participate in competitive sports it shared a cautionary tale without throwing its weight in paper behind one camp or another.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Staci Vought

    3.5. This was very compelling for any athlete. Not only did it tell Zac’s story, the history of concussions, some football history, and reasons why the game it beloved/needs to change were woven throughout. Content-wise, there were some concerns for high school readers: suicide, self medicating through drugs/alcohol, language, and some sexual content.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer Schultz

    Read if you: Want a thoughtful and unforgettable story about a young man's tragic battle with CTE and the troubling impact of football on many of its players. Although I felt some sections could have been shorter (many pages about his family's history; I understand the reason for it--to establish that Zac came from a stoic Midwestern male sensibility--but definitely slowed down the narrative), this is one of the most compelling books recently written about CTE and the impact of concussions on fo Read if you: Want a thoughtful and unforgettable story about a young man's tragic battle with CTE and the troubling impact of football on many of its players. Although I felt some sections could have been shorter (many pages about his family's history; I understand the reason for it--to establish that Zac came from a stoic Midwestern male sensibility--but definitely slowed down the narrative), this is one of the most compelling books recently written about CTE and the impact of concussions on football players. The fact that Zac's football career never progressed beyond high school makes it that more anguishing, as CTE cannot be excused as something that will only affect NFL superstars. Librarians/booksellers: This is a deeply intimate look at Zac's despair and decline. An important read for football fans, especially. Many thanks to Algonquin Books and NetGalley for a digital review copy in exchange for an honest review.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    Disclaimer: I am no football fan in any way, shape, or form; but this patient, methodical breakdown of the tragic descent into pain, pills, and punishment for the middle son of a football-obsessed Iowa family just a few years ago was a powerhouse from beginning to end. Laying bare the heartwrenching climax of this book from its earliest pages (and in the title itself) in no way detracts from its power to move, provoke, and galvanize. Zac Easter, smalltown high-school football phenom, despite wha Disclaimer: I am no football fan in any way, shape, or form; but this patient, methodical breakdown of the tragic descent into pain, pills, and punishment for the middle son of a football-obsessed Iowa family just a few years ago was a powerhouse from beginning to end. Laying bare the heartwrenching climax of this book from its earliest pages (and in the title itself) in no way detracts from its power to move, provoke, and galvanize. Zac Easter, smalltown high-school football phenom, despite what must have been daily mental and physical agonies of the most brutal kind, brought on by a young lifetime of no-holds-barred gridiron concussions, nevertheless left the world an explicit journal of what he had been quietly, stoically, fruitlessly doing battle with in the years leading up to his suicide at age 24. Mr. Forgrave's journalistic chops are displayed to full advantage as he reveals the shameful history of violence in American sport, particularly pro and amateur football, as well as the wealth of up-to-date, compelling scientific research findings on CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), the disease which led directly to Zac's early death, as sidebars to the details of Zac's ordinary/extraordinary life. Interviews with the Easter family and Zac's coaches, doctors, and friends combine to complete the portrait of a sensitive but complicated young man, who left behind the legacy of a foundation dedicated to CTE research, and to education of young people and their elders about the critical need to reduce the risks of engaging in contact sports. If more of us listen and act upon these indisputable safety facts and subsequent recommendations for change, then American football--and, more importantly, football players--may live to see another day. Zac, thank you for your service.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jacqueline

    I won an ARC of this book in a Goodreads Giveaway. I want to preface this review by saying that I don't watch football, and I don't watch shows about football. I still really liked this book. It was the perfect balance of case study and generalized science and history. When I read memoirs or autobiographies I often wonder "why do I care about this person, if I'm reading nonfiction I should be learning something not just memorizing the life of some random". With this book I learned about topics th I won an ARC of this book in a Goodreads Giveaway. I want to preface this review by saying that I don't watch football, and I don't watch shows about football. I still really liked this book. It was the perfect balance of case study and generalized science and history. When I read memoirs or autobiographies I often wonder "why do I care about this person, if I'm reading nonfiction I should be learning something not just memorizing the life of some random". With this book I learned about topics that I didn't even know I was interested. Here is a short list: The violent history of football The science behind CTE, the brain disease caused by repeated head trauma The condensed life stories of several high profile athletes Helmet design theory Why children shouldn't play football (this was my takeaway, the author was actually on the fence about it). I think it would be easy to make this a book about how some poor kid's life was destroyed by the toxic masculinity of his football obsessed small republican town and "real man" gun loving father while his pushover mother sat in the corner anxiously repeating "boys will be boys". Instead the author made an effort to keep these people nuanced and real. While I don't feel like I would actually like many of the people in this book they don't seem like bad people. They all had good intentions, there was no bad guy in this story. It was a respectful and balanced retelling of events. I feel like I was educated without having someone's opinion shoved down my throat. I really hope this book gains traction once it's published because it really is a good book.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Bob

    Summary: The account of Zac Easter, who grew up in the football culture of small town Iowa and his family, played hard, until he began to experience the consequences of repeated concussions, when his life began to unravel. Zac Easter grew up in small town Iowa in a football family. His father Myles was a player, college and high school coach at his high school. Both his brothers played. Small for his position, he made up for size with intensity. Hit after hit, using his head as a weapon to make u Summary: The account of Zac Easter, who grew up in the football culture of small town Iowa and his family, played hard, until he began to experience the consequences of repeated concussions, when his life began to unravel. Zac Easter grew up in small town Iowa in a football family. His father Myles was a player, college and high school coach at his high school. Both his brothers played. Small for his position, he made up for size with intensity. Hit after hit, using his head as a weapon to make up for his size. Hit after hit. Getting his “bell rung” many times. A final concussion and an alert trainer ended his athletic career in his senior year. Sadly, by then the damage was done. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE. Zac didn’t know what to call it then. He had problems with short-term memory, impulse control, headaches, and focusing his attention. Things didn’t get better. In fact, additional concussions during a stint in the National Guard compounded the problems. Reid Forgrave renders a sobering account of Zac’s downward spiral from a happy-go-lucky team captain to the abuse of drugs and alcohol in an attempt to self-medicate, alternating with attempts to get his life back on track, with the support of his family and girlfriend Ali Epperson. It was a spiral that ended one night at his favorite lake, as he took his own life. Forgrave sets this against the backdrop of the American ideals of football, in which masculinity equates with the physical toughness that shakes off injury and pain, including a few “dings” to the head. Every player has them and carries the wounds of battle with aching knees and other injuries. “Playing hurt” is what “real” men do. Only sissies take the bench. It’s one thing when it results in a gimpy leg. Then came Mike Webster and Junior Seau and a Pittsburgh researcher working with brain tissue of players who had died early, some by suicide, identified brain plaques that were the sign of something with the ominous name of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. This was the result of the brain’s attempt to heal itself from repeated concussive injuries. Zac learned of this research and began to suspect that this is what had happened to him, and was going on inside of his brain. He visits a number of doctors, but none really can make him better. Somehow, he finishes college and works for a time with his brother. Forgrave chronicles the struggle through Zac’s journals and texts. From one entry: “Working out was my only escape when I realized something was off with me from the concussions. For years, working out has been the only thing that actually made me feel human again and made me feel less depressed. The only way I knew how to handle my depression and feel good inside was by my one my faith in god [sic], listening to music, lifting, and running. Many people just thought that I was super motivated and determined to be army special forces, but in reality I kept up the super muscle image to look tough on the outside when I was really crying everyday on the inside….It’s hard to hold back tears even now when I think about the times I was feeling so down from depression that I loaded up my .22 rifle or shotgun and put it to my head…” ZAC EASTER Zac’s words are supplemented by the author’s interviews with family, coaches, trainer, and girlfriend. A common theme that runs through all these accounts is an ambivalence toward football. These are people who love their football and even think it a positive influence on young men. And it took Zac from them. This ambivalence is set against a growing national ambivalence from the numbers of former players afflicted with CTE. One the one hand is reforms to rules on kickoffs and tackling to attempt to take the head out of the game. Each year new helmets come out and concussion protocols are thoroughly implemented. On the other hand is the evidence that even sub-concussive injuries may be causing damage, and players endure hundreds of those. Even when you take the unnecessary roughness out of the game, there is the necessary roughness, without which you would have a game of a different character. I grew up watching the Saturday night fights on TV when boxing was a big deal, and the epic matches with Ali, Frazer, and Foreman. Ray Mancini grew up in my home town, went to my wife’s high school. When he knocked out Duk-koo Kim in the 14th round of a match, resulting in a fatal brain injury to Kim, Mancini’s life changed, and so did boxing. Forgrave raises the same questions about football. Despite its place in our culture, is it time to ask if our entertainment and the values the game purports to teach are worth the destructive effects on men’s bodies, even if they willing accept them? Men like Zac. ________________________________ Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer Program. The opinions I have expressed are my own. [Note: Contains coarse language and explicit material.]

  20. 4 out of 5

    Ethan

    "The truth is inconvenient. The truth could be painful. This is a game people love. But as a society, we evolve." Football has become almost as American as the Statue of Liberty or the Fourth of July. I mean, think about it for a moment. My time in the high school band revolved around supporting our football team every Friday night. Thanksgiving wouldn't be complete without "the big game" playing on the TV. Even colleges, places that are supposed to be dedicated to higher learning, feature massiv "The truth is inconvenient. The truth could be painful. This is a game people love. But as a society, we evolve." Football has become almost as American as the Statue of Liberty or the Fourth of July. I mean, think about it for a moment. My time in the high school band revolved around supporting our football team every Friday night. Thanksgiving wouldn't be complete without "the big game" playing on the TV. Even colleges, places that are supposed to be dedicated to higher learning, feature massive football stadiums looming over the rest of campus. American's love the game, but as author Reid Forgrave explores in his new book Love, Zac, our love affair with the sport may be doing more harm than good. Zac Easter was the quintessential all-American high school athlete. What he lacked in size he made up for in toughness. Football and grit seemed to run in his family. Zac's dad was the assistant coach at his rural midwestern high school. His older brother was a high school football star player. Playing the sport was not only a rite of passage for the Easter men, but it was also an expectation. If you don't play football, how will you become a proper man? Every game, Zac put forth all of his efforts, willing his body to push the limits of what it was capable of. Each play saw the young man violently collide with other players. It even earned him the coveted "big hammer" title from his coach. There were plenty of plays that left Zac raddled, dizzy, or even knocked out, but he always got up and returned to the field. Somewhere along the way, playing through the pain became the rule, not the exception. Finally, a catastrophic impact during his senior year took Zac out of the game for good. His football career was over, but the lifelong impact of his time playing the game was only beginning. "Spread the word of mental illness and concussions, and over time, please spread my story. Great things can still happen from this event." I don't often include trigger warnings in reviews, but I feel it is appropriate to do so with this book. Love, Zac is a gut-wrenching look at one person's struggle with injury, mental illness, and eventually suicide. This isn't normally the kind of book I would pick up to read, but Forgrave treats the subject with respect and transparency. After reading it, I'm happy that the publisher saw fit to send me a copy to review. The book doesn't just bash the sport. Forgrave even admits to being a fan of Football himself. Instead, it paints an intimate portrait of one young man's struggle with the aftereffects of traumatic hits to the head. As his headaches became a permanent symptom of years of physical trauma, Zac began to keep a journal. In reading the passages from it, we see his mental and physical anguish play out in real-time. Forgrave also interviews coaches, athletic trainers, doctors, and family members, filling in the gaps of Zac's writing and providing a complete picture of this one case. Football is ingrained into our culture, a part of our national identity. Love, Zac is never an argument against the game. Rather it is a sobering reminder of the price of this obsession.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Rick Fifield

    This is a heartbreaking read! This is a tragic tale of a man who while playing football from pee-wee to high school injured his brain. It is the tale of adults who were culpable in Zac Easter's suicide, including Zac Easter. The failure of all involved in this mans life had an effect in his death. Unfortunately, there are few heroes here in this story a girlfriend who tried to help, a trainer who noticed Zac's concussions on the field, the rest of the people either didn't listen to Zac when he t This is a heartbreaking read! This is a tragic tale of a man who while playing football from pee-wee to high school injured his brain. It is the tale of adults who were culpable in Zac Easter's suicide, including Zac Easter. The failure of all involved in this mans life had an effect in his death. Unfortunately, there are few heroes here in this story a girlfriend who tried to help, a trainer who noticed Zac's concussions on the field, the rest of the people either didn't listen to Zac when he tried to explain his issues or in Zac case, he couldn't stick with a program, going back to the booze and drugs he thought would help ease his pain. The problem with this book is like many others I have seen, the main character lived his life, then has a life changing event and now everyone wants to change how the sport is played. It does not take a rocket scientist to see that football is a violent sport, players have been hurt and maimed, some have died. Zac's parents allowed Zac to play earlier than allowed, it is admitted that Zac did not use good form when tackling, coaches were not happy when the trainer would pull a player, Zac even states he had headache in his early years playing but was afraid to tell anyone because he was afraid of not being tough enough. There are many other examples in the book. Mr. Forgave storytelling could have been a little better. There were many place where I read the same phrasing a few times in the book. I thought the chapter structure could have been different, maybe a little about Zac, then tell about a particular aspect of CTE, mental issues, and suicide. Overall a good read.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl

    This book will make you sad. Yet, at the same time it is enlightening as it shines a focus on mental health and how it relates to football. Which is what Zac wanted. Will Smith helped with this in the movie, Concussion. Mr. Forgave does a great job of portraying Zac's words on paper. It was like Zac was narrating the book for me. I am sure the Easter family wishes they could turn back time. Sadly, this can't happen but people can learn from Zac's story and help others suffering. I know my oldest This book will make you sad. Yet, at the same time it is enlightening as it shines a focus on mental health and how it relates to football. Which is what Zac wanted. Will Smith helped with this in the movie, Concussion. Mr. Forgave does a great job of portraying Zac's words on paper. It was like Zac was narrating the book for me. I am sure the Easter family wishes they could turn back time. Sadly, this can't happen but people can learn from Zac's story and help others suffering. I know my oldest nephew played football as a freshman in high school. He did suffer a mild concussion and the doctor would not clear him until he was healed and he had to watch the movie, Concussion; so that he had an understanding. It did help as as mixture of the doctor's order and losing interest like young teens do; he is not playing football. This book is not just a "book" but an educational and emotional journey. This quote from the book kind of summaries up football perfectly. "Football is a dangerous, vile sport. Football is a beautiful, cathartic sport. Football, perhaps, is both."

  23. 5 out of 5

    Allison

    The subject of this book, sports-generated brain trauma, is certainly timely and I was expecting a story that would capture my interest on several levels and provide much needed information. The story quickly introduces us to Zac and his all-American family We are shown how football in small town America is often the cornerstone of social life, Zac would seem to be the perfect candidate for this football culture. He is highly competitive, willing to take risks and very eager to please his father The subject of this book, sports-generated brain trauma, is certainly timely and I was expecting a story that would capture my interest on several levels and provide much needed information. The story quickly introduces us to Zac and his all-American family We are shown how football in small town America is often the cornerstone of social life, Zac would seem to be the perfect candidate for this football culture. He is highly competitive, willing to take risks and very eager to please his father. He is a not much of a student in the classroom but eager to do his best on the football field. Unfortunately Zac has some deep flaws, at least as far as this reader was concerned. He is totally lacking in empathy for the victims of his hard hits but his character was warped long before he donned a helmet. When I read that, as a young boy he shoved fire crackers down the throat of a snake so he could watch him blow up, I lost all sympathy for Zac. There is a vital need for the message this book has to share. I just wish the author had found a messenger more deserving of our compassion.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Nicole

    This book is a hard read, but a good read. Although I'm not a football fan, I enjoyed reading about the psychological and sociological theories behind why people enjoy football as well as the anatomy, physiology, cause, research, and lots of other information about CTE. I thought it was really interesting to see Zac's story from his, his family's, his coach's, and his athletic trainer's perspectives. I really like that the author included excerpts from Zac's journals and text conversations with This book is a hard read, but a good read. Although I'm not a football fan, I enjoyed reading about the psychological and sociological theories behind why people enjoy football as well as the anatomy, physiology, cause, research, and lots of other information about CTE. I thought it was really interesting to see Zac's story from his, his family's, his coach's, and his athletic trainer's perspectives. I really like that the author included excerpts from Zac's journals and text conversations with friends and family. I think this book should be read by football fans, football players, parents whose kids want to or are playing football, family members and friends of football players and health professionals who work with people of all ages who have sustained multiple concussions and are at risk of developing CTE.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Shala

    As a mother of a son who loved and adored football from the time he could walk, and the grandmother of a grandson who feels the same this is a heartbreaking story. Our family are huge NFL fans, have football coaches in the family, and support our local team. I am much like the narrator. Knowing the discussion will be a hard one to have for my children when their boys want to start tackle football in 4th and 5th grade. The authenticity of the journals, the suffering of the family, it speaks volum As a mother of a son who loved and adored football from the time he could walk, and the grandmother of a grandson who feels the same this is a heartbreaking story. Our family are huge NFL fans, have football coaches in the family, and support our local team. I am much like the narrator. Knowing the discussion will be a hard one to have for my children when their boys want to start tackle football in 4th and 5th grade. The authenticity of the journals, the suffering of the family, it speaks volumes. I am so grateful that in their pain they were willing to educate on the dangers and precautions that should be taken. Thank you Easter family and Allison for sharing this story to help all the football families.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Carol

    For the love of the sport. How many times have I heard that phrase? For 60 years I've been a huge fan of football. It wasn't until Junior Seau's death that I became more aware of the ugly, broken side of the game. And Zac, loved son and brother. This is a heartbreaking story of the brokenness of the body and spirit cause by CTE.. in my state of Iowa... across the country; the male machismo that can't be explained or denied. Will I give up watching football? Professional games, yes. But I still For the love of the sport. How many times have I heard that phrase? For 60 years I've been a huge fan of football. It wasn't until Junior Seau's death that I became more aware of the ugly, broken side of the game. And Zac, loved son and brother. This is a heartbreaking story of the brokenness of the body and spirit cause by CTE.. in my state of Iowa... across the country; the male machismo that can't be explained or denied. Will I give up watching football? Professional games, yes. But I still yearn for those Friday night lights on a high school field, the cool air mixed with good spirits. Watch over them all Zac. Thank you to LibraryThing for a copy for my review.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Koren

    I almost didnt read this book. From the first pages we know that this is going to be an incredibly sad book. We know that a young man dies from chronic traumatic encephalopathy- a condition brought on from having too many concussions, usually caused by playing football. (For those not living in the US, this is American football, not what we call soccer). The author does a good job of relating the history of concussions in football and of telling us about the family dynamics and the history of th I almost didnt read this book. From the first pages we know that this is going to be an incredibly sad book. We know that a young man dies from chronic traumatic encephalopathy- a condition brought on from having too many concussions, usually caused by playing football. (For those not living in the US, this is American football, not what we call soccer). The author does a good job of relating the history of concussions in football and of telling us about the family dynamics and the history of the town. Even though this is a sad book I think it is important information, especially if we have sons and grandsons playing the sport.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Ally

    The book was VERY informative and I found myself wanting to learn more about Zac and his family and his experience and downfall, and the details of CTE, rather than the history of football as a whole. That's not to say that's not important, because as mentioned in the book, it will be difficult to look at the sport the same ever again, but I just found myself wanting more about Zac and less a football history lesson. Grateful to win an advance copy of the book and since I didn't buy it I will ma The book was VERY informative and I found myself wanting to learn more about Zac and his family and his experience and downfall, and the details of CTE, rather than the history of football as a whole. That's not to say that's not important, because as mentioned in the book, it will be difficult to look at the sport the same ever again, but I just found myself wanting more about Zac and less a football history lesson. Grateful to win an advance copy of the book and since I didn't buy it I will make a small donation to CTE Hope, for Zac and all those that suffer from CTE.

  29. 5 out of 5

    wade

    This book is a searing indictment of football especially for kids high school age or younger. It focuses on a young man in Iowa (Zac) . Due his style of play he suffers a series of head injuries that leave him damaged mentally and physically. The author focuses on his life through his diary, personal texts and interviews with his family and friends. There is a heavy emphasis on the history of and data on football related head trauma at the high school, college and professional levels. I love fo This book is a searing indictment of football especially for kids high school age or younger. It focuses on a young man in Iowa (Zac) . Due his style of play he suffers a series of head injuries that leave him damaged mentally and physically. The author focuses on his life through his diary, personal texts and interviews with his family and friends. There is a heavy emphasis on the history of and data on football related head trauma at the high school, college and professional levels. I love football but this book was a real eye opener.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Amanda Harris

    A heartbreaking and stunning examination into the effects of football and repeated concussions. The story of Zac Easter, who did not play football past high school, but nevertheless suffered a debilitating amount of head trauma, was truly eye opening and presents a really well researched case for what to do next in the sport. Lots of background on football itself and a lot of cooperation from Zac’s family makes this a really compelling read.

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