Doctors at UCLA and a company called TauMark say they've found the holy grail of concussion research: a scan to detect chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in athletes who are still alive. If the new test proves valid -- results are promising but preliminary -- it could change the lives of thousands of players. To see how, Peter Keating talked with former Giants All-Pro defensive end Leonard Marshall, who recently learned he tested positive for CTE.
Peter Keating: You're one of the first players to go through this new brain scan. What was it like to see the results?
Leonard Marshall: It's crazy. [Shows scan of his damaged amygdala -- the brain's impulse control center -- on his cellphone.] That's me. And it scares the life out of me ... . I love my daughter Arianna more than I love life, and I would rather die than see something happen to my child. ... I'm concerned that the NFL won't be there for that little girl. I'm concerned that "NFL" means no f---ing love for that little girl.
Keating: You sued the NFL, and the league is reportedly settling its concussion lawsuits for $765 million. Where does a former player like you, who's having cognitive problems but doesn't have dementia or ALS, fit into that deal?
Marshall: I don't think it's been clearly conveyed to me exactly what the deal is. I think it's not enough money. I think the NFL is going to have a huge problem. They are afraid they are going to have to pay 18,000 players $2 million, $3 million, $4 million each that are diagnosed with this. Or is it that they want 18,000 players to kill themselves because they thought they had CTE, start cutting open brains of 18,000 players and then say: "Well, he don't have it. He don't need anything." At this point in the game, what is it? Most of these guys that are in this situation with CTE, do you think an insurance company is going to write them a life insurance policy at this point?
This is a job-related illness. The moral thing would be to take care of treatment and deal with the illness and those that are injured. We knew what we signed up for in terms of breaking an arm, injuring a foot, developing back issues -- all that stuff. But what we didn't sign up for is the unknown. You can ice-massage your neck, your back, your elbow. You can't ice-massage headaches, loss of memory, your ability to communicate. You cannot ice-massage suicidal thoughts. You can't fix that on your own. Because you have all this cognitive bull going on.
Keating: How do you focus on the hope that can come out of knowing what's going on in your brain, instead of succumbing to the despair that overcame players like Dave Duerson, a teammate of yours?
Marshall: It's very easy to sit back and go, "Oh poor me," and look at the football field and hate it. The reaction now is: How do I deal with this and move forward? Do I sit back and cry in my beer, or do I force the powers that be to take notice, and then fix it? Because if you don't remedy the problem now, it's only going to get bigger, badder and worse.
Keating: How do you try to keep yourself mentally healthy?
Marshall: I hired someone to help me get back on track in understanding credit and finance again, understanding some of the things that I had short-term memory loss with. ... Testosterone therapy puts a little pep in your step, and I think it will help my overall wellness.
I'm right now involved with doctors ... to come up with a traumatic-brain-injury platform that will be pretty much second to none. I'm talking about aggressive medicine and ways to treat children and adults that have cognitive issues, whether it be from falling off a bike without a helmet, to having multiple concussions as a result of playing a sport ... . I've been doing this now for about five years.
Keating: It's going to take a lot of work for other players to figure out what's best for them and to avoid the snake oil that's out there.
Marshall: I feel for the guys who are not on top of their game. I feel for the guys [who are] ill-advised and ill-informed. And I don't know what they are going to do. Because the disconnect is real.
I feel I gotta do what I gotta do every day to see the world for what it is now. Not for what it used to be, but for what it is now, and what I want to get out of it. Because if I feel sorry for myself, I'm going to go in the tank.
I don't want to go in the tank.