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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
“What an accomplishment. Brimming with compassion and insight, Reid Forgrave has written an artful and intimate portrait of a former high school football star that travels ambitiously into themes of masculinity, suffering, and the nature of a national obsession. ‘Love, Zac’ is not just a vital contribution to the national conversation about traumatic brain injury in athletes, it’s so beautifully written it belongs on the shelf alongside classic works of literary journalism.”
That is from Jeanne Marie Laskas, the bestselling author of “Concussion,” about Reid Forgrave’s book “Love, Zac: Small-Town Football and the Life and Death of an American Boy.”
Forgrave, who once worked for the Des Moines Register and feels like “sort of an adopted Iowan,” will be in Cedar Rapids Tuesday night to talk about his book, which just came out in paperback. An “Evening with Reid Forgrave” will take place at Craft’d from 7 to 8 p.m.
Zac Easter was a standout football player at Indianola High School, one of those who played the game with what coaches like to call “reckless abandon.” He loved football and the lessons he learned from the game.
But he also blamed football for ruining his life and, ultimately, killing him.
In December 2015, Easter shot himself in the chest because he wanted his brain donated and tested for chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. It was confirmed Easter indeed had CTE.
Forgrave is a wonderful writer who thrives on long-form storytelling. He did that for the Register and still is doing it at the Minneapolis Star Tribune. He admitted he has a “strange gift” in dealing with family grief.
But Easter’s story, he said, was not an easy tale to tell.
“It was incredibly painful,” Forgrave said of writing, first, an article for GQ Magazine and later the book.
But, he said, it was a story that needed to be told and one, it turned out, Easter wanted to be told.
Forgrave had already moved to Minneapolis when he found Easter’s obituary.
“The final paragraph of his obituary was absolutely gut-wrenching,” he said. “I remember ... being torn apart by it.”
He contacted the family and two weeks after Easter’s funeral was sitting the family’s living room, talking to Zac’s mom, dad and brother. While they told their stories, a Vikings-Packers game was on the TV.
That’s when Forgrave realized he not only had a “relevant story” to tell, but something bigger.
“This is so much more,” he said.
We, as a society, are passionate about our sports, our teams. Football is the most popular, but it’s also the most dangerous. It’s a violent game. People get hurt and some of those injuries aren’t always obvious in the moment.
Many battle this love-hate relationship every Friday, Saturday and/or Sunday. Do I let my child play football? Do the good things about football outweigh the dangers?
That, in a nutshell, is what Forgrave’s book is about — and a lot of it is Easter’s own words.
“It never would have been anything without Zac’s own writings,” Forgrave said of a 39-page Word document Easter printed out before killing himself. “... this was sort of his autobiography he left behind.”
It was a vivid account of what football had done to Easter and the pain it had caused in his life. Yet, he still loved the game and all the good things it did for him, the identity it gave him.
Easter was a small-town football player. His dad was a coach. It was part of his DNA. But “he blamed football for his death.”
“This is a story of America’s complicated history with football,” Forgrave said.
You won’t find any answers to those complicated questions in this tale, however. “I don’t think any of us” have those answers, Forgrave said.
He’s proud of first book and hopes it simply makes people think.
If you love football, he said, “I hope you question your love for football.” If you hate football, “I hope you question your hate for football.“
Easter “loved it and hated it.”
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