Shaw’s battle with ALS ignites memories of other ex-NFL players with disease

Editor’s note: Monday night, FOX Sports Live aired a feature on Tim Shaw, the former NFL special teamer and linebacker who is now battling ALS. You can see that feature in full above. In the text below, Brendon Ayanbadejo, a former special teamer himself with several friends suffering from the disease, gives his thoughts on the struggle.

I have four friends that played in the NFL that have ALS. Three of them did what I did, played a significant amount of special teams.

The stark similarities of what O.J. Brigance, Steve Gleason and Tim Shaw are enduring worries me about my own future.

The fourth player and comrade, former UCLA Bruin and Minnesota Vikings "Purple People Eater" great Fred McNeill, represents a different era and genre of player.

Brigance and Gleason, like me, are both Super Bowl champions as well as special teams mavens. That hits hard and deep in my psyche, and penetrates deeper when you take another former special teams star, Shaw, and add him to the conversation.

ALS struck O.J., Steve and Tim in their 30s, with Tim being the youngest to battle the physically debilitating disease.

For 10 years, I did exactly what these guys did: run as fast as possible and not stop until you hit something.

The mentality of special teamers is you don’t need to brake. If you are going to run 50 yards, it better end with an impact scenario, where you are an arrow going through snow.

The Steve Gleason Act was introduced to the House on Friday by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers. Its purpose is to ensure that patients battling ALS will have access to speech-generating devices. These are essential.

Understand how my friends gave their body –€“ and mind –€“ while playing football.

However, the tip of that arrow — your helmet — is a blunt object, not sharp, and it cradles anything and everything we are as individual human beings — the mind.

The irony is that the mind and arrow are sharp. Impact after impact not only dulls the arrow, it also forever dulls the mind and body.

The game we loved and played as little boys, the game that paid us as professionals and allowed all of our dreams to come true is also the root of our nightmare. The lasting mental and physical effects are never more apparent than when looking at the lives of Tim Shaw, O.J. Brigance, Steven Gleason, Fred McNeill and so many others fighting ALS.

When I sit back and analyze the nightmarish situation these men are living and breathing every minute, second, hour and day, it is their reality. Each of these men own ALS with a tremendous sense of responsibility and courage. When the "Ice Bucket Challenges" stop, ALS does not go away.

When the trending ALS media stops, ALS does not go away.

No one should forget that. Not for a moment. My quartet of friends deserves this and much more. They are fighting the good fight against ALS. They need our support more.