In 2003, Eric Kester was a 17-year-old ballboy for the Chicago Bears. The aftershocks of the violence he saw during that season are still rippling through today's NFL.
In a column published in The New York Times, Kester talks about the extreme violence he saw occur on every game day, which resulted in many players sitting around in postgame locker rooms with dazed expressions from the damage inflicted.
In particular, Kester is troubled by the role he suspects he played in causing irreparable brain damage to those players. While today the football world knows about a condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, Kester understood at the time as a momentary problem remedied by smelling salts.
One of Kester's responsibilities was to carry small amounts of smelling salts in his pockets on NFL sidelines waiting for players dazed from a hit. When a player would call him over -- many times after vomiting from a hard hit he had just taken -- Kester would quickly pull out the salts for the player to inhale.
The salts snapped the player back to an alert state, and he went on playing the game.
Kester argues that TV cameras were instructed not to show the smelling salts on broadcasts. But those aren't the only signs of damage Kester saw as a ball boy. He routinely found bloody and soiled jockstraps that he ascribes to a brief nervous system failure caused by a hard hit.
Kester also describes having to unwrap a wad of gum because a player lacked the fine motor skills to handle the tiny foil himself.
In the editorial, Kester calls for better mental health resources for players, as well as larger NFL reforms to save the league before injuries destroy it.
The way Kester sees it, much of the off-field trouble caused by NFL players -- particularly regarding alcohol abuse and violence -- are inextricably related to what those players endure on the gridiron.