By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Because CTE was first found in football players less than a decade ago, and given that many indigent former athletes are represented by public or pro bono attorneys without the time or resources to pioneer unusual defense tactics, the disease has received virtually no mention in the courtroom, even when it is probably a significant factor contributing to a defendant's criminal actions.
In Brymer's case, his attorney's reference to CTE in her efforts to get his bail reduced had little effect. At the close of the bail hearing on August 20, Haines said he wasn't convinced that Brymer suffers from a brain disorder. "I'm kind of familiar with this syndrome involved with football players," the judge said. "There's no medical evidence that connects this to your client ... that's my problem with this." He denied the motion, and Brymer was led out of the courtroom by a bailiff, who returned him to the jail upstairs.
Brymer's parents didn't stick around. They refused to speak to a reporter as they left the Hall of Justice, and didn't return subsequent phone calls.
Brymer, in an interview a few days after the hearing, says he wishes they had stopped by the jail to visit him. "They drive 400 miles to San Francisco," he says. "They should just wait for an extra two or three hours to talk to me."
He's deflated, but not surprised. When his life began coming apart several years ago, Brymer says, his parents and siblings "found it really hard to understand where it came from. Basically, I had no one to lean on. ... It's just kind of a difficult situation for them to comprehend how someone could come down with brain trauma without anything happening."
As he awaits his trial, Brymer still has no one to lean on. Upon admittance to the county jail he was placed in a ward with emotionally disturbed prisoners, he says. One stands and spins in place; another threatened to stab him. Brymer takes the prescription antidepressant and anti-anxiety drug Paxil, but says he is being administered an improperly low dose. A dispute with a fellow inmate over a mattress — the details of the argument, as he describes them, are difficult to parse — led to his being placed in a special cell alone for a time.
By the time Brymer sits for a third and final interview at the county jail just before Labor Day weekend, he has visibly worsened from two and a half weeks earlier. His affect deadened, he stares at the wall, his blue eyes framed by dark rings. "I'm so tired of sitting in this jail," he says. Asked how he is feeling, he responds, "The only thing I have a feeling about is going to sleep, waking up, and another day passing."
There are those who want to help. Within hours of a reporter first calling Himebauch, Brymer's former USC teammate — who also went on to play with him in NFL Europe and the XFL — and three other USC friends had called, asking about the details of his incarceration, the name of his attorney, the address of the jail where he was being held, and any advice on what they could do to help.
Former Rhein Fire teammate Heimburger says Brymer should be institutionalized or referred for medical treatment. "Someone should help, and if the state can't help people like that, that's kind of sad," he says. "We pay all these taxes, and if someone's falling apart like that, somebody should be able to help put them back together."
Seth Steward, spokesman for the San Francisco District Attorney's Office, says prosecutors are careful to evaluate a defendant's mental capacity, particularly as it relates to his state of mind and intentions when an alleged crime was committed. "We definitely take that stuff into consideration," he says. In Brymer's case, however, Steward says it's unclear whether any mental disorder is present in the first place: "I don't even know if we have any evidence of that yet."
The people's case against Chris Brymer, the offensive guard who fell apart after years of protecting others on the field, begins this week. Regardless of its results, the punishment Brymer's mental and emotional snap has exacted on him and those close to him can already be tallied.
Melissa Brymer, for one, feels sick as she watches the 7-year-old child she had with Brymer — who is not allowed to make contact with his son, according to court restrictions following their divorce — grow to resemble his absent dad more and more. "He's already a foot taller than everyone else in his class. He looks like a lineman already, and I'm terrified," she says.
Brymer's situation, like that of other former football players coping with probable CTE, creates uncomfortable questions for those who watch, play or make money from our preferred national spectacle. To what extent are we complicit in the havoc football might be wreaking on individual lives? What special consideration do we owe the sport's broken athletes, in the courtroom or outside it?
For Melissa Brymer, who witnessed the aftermath of her ex-husband's professional sports career, the question raised by CTE is more immediate. Will she let her boy play football, running the same risks as his father? "I could never see my son turn hollow like that," she says. "I do not want him anywhere near the sport."
E-mail the author at Peter.Jamison@SFWeekly.com.