After more than a decade of watching her husband, former New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints safety Rob Kelly, become more paranoid, depressed and detached from his family, Emily Kelly spoke out about the long-term effects of repetitive concussions in a New York Times opinion piece.
Emily Kelly wrote that her husband, who played for the Saints from 1997-2001 and the Patriots in 2002, sustained an injury to a nerve between his neck and shoulder during a training camp that ended his career. She also mentioned one tackle he attempted during a Saints game that caused him to forget the rest of the game.
An examining clinician found that repeated concussions, and to a lesser extent, prior alcohol abuse in the early years of his retirement, may have played a factor into Rob Kelly's "neuropsychological dysfunction." After beginning an application process for benefits for retired players, he received permanent disability benefits for his condition, listed as "degenerative." The statement established that his "disability arises out of league football activities" and formed within 15 years of his final season.
"I don't think the public has any idea how widespread this problem truly is," Emily Kelly said.
As long as Emily Kelly has known her husband, she wrote, he's experienced trouble sleeping and prone to depression and mood swings. However, in 2013, Kelly noticed that Rob Kelly was losing weight. By 2016, she wrote, Rob Kelly had gone from around 200 pounds to 157 pounds. The couple's fights "went in bizarre circles and were never resolved," Emily Kelly wrote.
"It was as if our lives were on a loop, like some song that's been left on repeat for years," she said. "That sort of repetition has a tremendous ability to make you feel like you're going insane. And maybe, you wonder, you are."
Becoming more and more out of touch with reality, Rob Kelly went from "being a devoted and loving father and husband to someone who felt like a ghost" to his family, Emily Kelly wrote. He frequently brought up his funeral arrangements and demand to be cremated. At one time, he went five days without eating, drinking only water and chocolate milk.
Kelly said her husband accepted the physical risks associated with football — not the unseen consequences that come with the contact sport.
"These men choose football," she wrote, "but they didn't choose brain damage."
"Rob and I hope that, in telling our story, we might help other families."