Many memories of a childhood as my father’s daughter are as lost to me now as they were to my father before he passed; when you spend your early years on the defense, your only focus is to get through the experience, not delight in the moment. My father’s outbursts were not discussed but “brushed under the rug,” after which life went on without apologies.
Maybe he picked that up at work: A lineman who, at full speed, launches himself at his opponent knows that pain and injury might be a byproduct of the attack, but the harder the attack the better, and no apologies. But no one tells his family of the need for armor; we learned that the hard way
My father’s ability to remember anything faded slowly. As a motivational speaker, he was able to fool those who listened to him from the podium because he had a script, which was similar to his life. But, eventually, even having script began to fail him.
In his spare time, he helped found the Tommy Nobis Center — his second love — to help people with disabilities. But despite his love for the work, he had to scale back his participation in his last 10 years, and was unable to be involved at all for the last 5 years of his life.
Meanwhile, he became hostile and, many times violent. During his brief moments of clarity, he became more depressed about the reality of his loss of control. He became less “good” at things he used to be great at, like being a father or grandfather. In fact, for a period of 2 years, his children made the difficult decision to separate ourselves from my father’s volatile and aggressive behavior to protect our own kids.
By the end, my dad had lost the ability to remember where he lived, where he went to church, what meal he had eaten last. Before his death, he lived many days in a fog. Some days, we would find him in his favorite chair, either staring at the television or into space. Others, I’d wonder why my father had spent so many hours in the yard raking and sweeping; now I realize that it is a mindless activity. He was lost.
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, caused by a career doing the thing he loved, robbed my father of his life long before he died. Although he finally lost his last battle at the age of 74, he fought like a gladiator with CTE for nearly half of those years. He was a true warrior who lived a life of humility, never crying out for the help we now know he deeply needed.
CTE has far reaching effects: Violence, crime, substance abuse, paranoia, depression and, ultimately, death. I find it increasingly difficult to believe that the game of football is worth it.
One day, maybe Americans become as wise as the Emperor Honorius, who closed the gladiator schools and ultimately prohibited gladiator contests. If we can’t end the game, then let’s at least stand firm to change this gladiator-like sport that calls our sons, brothers, husbands and fathers to sacrifice their lives for our passing entertainment. Our children would benefit; I know I would have.