Dear Mr. Goodell...
“Yeah, sure, Tony, I agree with you, he’s old enough to retire, but he’s making $25 million a year. Twenty-five! And look at his stat line from last week against the Bears- eleven catches for one hundred and fifty-six yards, with three touchdowns. Even though he missed last week because of that awful collision with Darrelle Revis, he looks as good as he’s ever been!”
“Okay, he had a good comeback from that concussion. But what makes you think he’s not-”
Trayvon Waters shut off his TV and got off his super-sized couch. He picked up the newspaper entitled, “Waters Has Exceptional Game vs. Bears- Super Bowl, Here We Come!” and threw it into the trash. “Stephen!” Trayvon called.
The sound of the butler’s fancy shoes clicking against the marbled tile echoed throughout the stone mansion.“Yes, sir?”
“I’m going up to Manhattan for a couple of hours. Will you watch over things here for me?”
“Of course, sir. Is there anything else I can do for you?”
“That’ll be all,” Trayvon replied. He pulled on his smelly old Giants sweatshirt as he began to leave.
“Sir?” Stephen called.
Trayvon turned around. “Yeah, Stevie?”
“May I ask why you are going to Manhattan?”
Trayvon hesitated. “Just my headache.”
“Yes, sir,” Stephen said, a small frown on his face.
The drive from Trayvon’s home in Verona in New Jersey to Manhattan took an hour and a half, but Trayvon didn’t mind. He wrapped himself in solitude, going deep into his own mind. He knew the headaches he had weren’t normal, and he wanted to know what they were. He had recently read about concussion rates, and he was worried that his headaches were just that. He himself couldn’t count how many concussions he’d had.
He got out of his blue convertible Porsche and went inside the small building along the busyness of 92nd Street. Next to the door, he read a sign that said, “BrainScan, Inc.” and underneath that, “Dr. James Thompson, PhD.”.
Trayvon went up to the the desk clerk at the front of the waiting room. She looked up at him from his computer and asked, “Name?”
“Waters. I have an appointment at three?”
“Yes, that’s correct. Would you mind signing yourself in? I’ll let him know you’re here,”
A few moments later, the clerk returned with Dr. Thompson. He was a stout man, and when he saw Trayvon, a large smile sprouted upon his face. “Mr. Waters,” the doctor said. Trayvon grinned back at him, then stopped abruptly as his hand went to the back of his head. Dr. Thompson frowned. “Well, Trayvon,” he said. “Let’s find out what is causing you pain.”
They walked through the door Dr. Thompson had come through, down the hallway to a dimly lit room with a large machine inside of it. “So, how did you find me?” the doctor asked. Trayvon said, ”One of my teammates was reading a newspaper out loud about the new technology and I decided to give it a shot.”
“Smart choice, but it still is highly experimental,” the doctor reminded him. He gestured for Trayvon to lie down on a table that was connected to the machine. “Now, are there any questions you have to ask before I put you in the machine?”
“Yeah. How does this thing work?” Trayvon asked.
“Well, basically, it scans your brain like an MRI, but it looks for a special type of protein called a tau.”
“What is that?”
“Tau proteins?” Trayvon nodded and the doctor continued. “The development of tau proteins is caused by repeated injury to the brain. You have had a history of concussions; what number was the one against the Falcons? Eleven? Twelve? Anyways, there is a slight chance you may have a disease called CTE, which is when the tau proteins choke your brain so much, at some levels, you might have the same brain structure of an eighty year old man even though you’re only half that age.
“Because you might have CTE, I am going to scan your brain for tau.” With that, the doctor pressed a button and the table slowly started moving into a hole in the back of the machine. Once his head was in the hole, the table stopped. Over a speaker, Dr. Thompson told Trayvon to relax. Trayvon did, and the machine began to run its programs.
An hour later, the program ended and Trayvon got out of the machine. Dr. Thompson came back into the room, and Trayvon asked, “So, what’s the verdict? Do I have CTE?”
The doctor replied,”I won’t know for another week, but until then, you are able to continue with your regular schedule.”
“So I can still play, right?”
“Yes, you can play football for the moment.”
A smile of relief spread across Trayvon’s face. “Thanks, doc,” he said. “For everything.”
The next day, Trayvon went to practice as usual. He walked through the enormous front gates of the practice field, made his way to the back of the complex, changed into his red practice jersey, and went into the film room. “As you already know, our key to winning the trophy is our offense. So, today we'll do full contact drills, so receivers, wear all of your pads. Trayvon, nice of you to join us. See me after,” said the Giants’ coach, Ben McAdoo. “By the way, that’s five hundred for being late.” The team jogged out to the field and began to stretch. After stretching, they began to warm up. Then, practice began.
Trayvon broke from the huddle at the middle of the Giants’ practice field, jogging out to his position in the slot. He set his feet, waiting for the play to start.
Eli Manning, the Giants’ quarterback, dropped back and the lineman clashed, grunting and shouting with determination. Trayvon burst from the line of scrimmage, running straight ahead, as fast as he could. He could feel the rhythm of his limbs churning, his brain signaling the tempo faster, faster. The safety dropped back into coverage, but he had misplayed the zone, and Trayvon cut to the right, into the middle of the field, and wide open. He looked back to the pocket just as Eli released the ball. He reached up and felt the leather sting his palms. But the hurt of the sting was decimated by what happened next. A cornerback, recognizing the blown coverage, came over to tackle Trayvon. But instead of tackling him, their heads collided and he fell to the ground, seeing stars.
Trayvon woke to a bright light shining in his face. He groaned and tried to sit up, but he felt dizzy and nauseated and fell back onto the table in the training room. I must have had another concussion, he thought. As the spot from the light left his eyes, he looked around the room. In chairs were three people: the owner of the Giants, John Mara, Ben McAdoo, and the trainer, Ronnie Barnes.
“What happened?” Trayvon asked, as he reached to the back of his head, where the pain was stronger than usual.
“Another concussion,” Ronnie said. “This isn’t good, Trayvon.”
“I know. And now I’m going to be on the bench next week.”
“No, you’re not,” Mara said. “Perhaps I can jog your memory- next week is the Super Bowl.”
“And we’re going to need you,” Ben McAdoo said. “You’re the only experienced receiver we’ve got.”
“Now, hang on,” Ronnie said. “He has a concussion, and not a very mild one, either. I’m not going to let him play.”
Trayvon cut in. “I don’t even want to play. I have played with one before, and I know how dangerous it is to do that.”
Mara said, “Yeah, it’s a risk, but we’re here to win. We have to do everything we can to get that trophy.”
“You can’t make me play.”
“Yes, I can. Ronnie, erase his concussion from the injury report. Trayvon, you are going to play and that is final.”
“Sir, that’s against regulations,” Ronnie said.
“Since when do you give a crap about regulations?” Mara said. “You’ve done this a million times.”
Ronnie looked crushed. “Yes, sir,” he said uncomfortably.
“Now, does everyone understand?” Mara asked. “No one needs to know about this, and no one will.”
Everyone nodded but Trayvon. Mara said, “Trayvon, am I clear?”
“Good. Now, your butler is outside waiting to take you home.” and the party of four left the room to go their separate ways.
A few days later, Trayvon went to visit the doctor in Manhattan again. He went through the building to Dr. Thompson’s office. He knocked on the door, and the doctor’s voice said, “Come in.”
He walked into the room. It was a very organized office- everything the doctor owned was put in a drawer, or cabinet, and labeled. On top of the desk Dr. Thompson sat behind, there was only two things- a picture of what Trayvon presumed to be his family, and a manilla folder. Trayvon sat down in front of the desk, and the doctor picked up the folder. Inside were two scans. Dr. Thompson said, “I am going to show you picture of a healthy brain of a man your age. He picked up one of the scans. It was a brightly multi-colored brain, with spots of red, yellow, blue and some green. “This is a normal brain,” he said, “And this is the brain of an eighty year old man with dementia.” He picked up the other scan. Even though Trayvon hadn’t ever seen a brain scan before, he could tell that the second brain was in much worse condition. The second scan was much darker, and was in shades of brown.
Then, the doctor reached into his desk drawer and pulled out another scan. “This is your brain,” he said. Trayvon gasped.
“You have CTE.”
The next day.
Trayvon walked into the press room, and immediately, reporters stormed him with questions. He slowly walked up to the podium in between commissioner Roger Goodell and John Mara, and began the short speech he had prepared. “Gentlemen, and ladies of course, I am about to rock your world with the news I have.
“Unfortunately, it’s not good. You see, I have a condition called CTE. It has to do with dangerous proteins choking my brain. Many believe it’s what prompted Junior Seau to kill himself.”
The reporters began to question him again, but he signaled the horde to stop. He continued. “Therefore, as of…” he paused to check his watch. “Twelve fifty-eight on Super Bowl Sunday, 2014, I am a retired member of the National Football League.” He stepped off the podium and left the room, ignoring the flashing of cameras and questions from reporters being tossed at him without mercy.
As he walked out of the New York Giants’ sports complex for the last time, he pulled out his iPhone and began to write a letter.
Dear Mr. Goodell. . .
Facts and Fictions
Trayvon Waters is a fictional athlete, created only for the purpose of this story. His butler Stephen, does not exist either. However, Verona is an actual city in New Jersey. Dr. Thompson and BrainScan tech do not exist, but there is other technology to detect tau not unlike, the system described. Ben McAdoo, Eli Manning, John Mara, and Ronnie Barnes all exist and have the positions they hold in this story. However, their personalities are fabricated. The 2014 Super Bowl was held at MetLife Stadium, but the Giants did not play in it. It is true that some teams would put concussed players into the lineup.