KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- In a small conference room in a big Kansas City hotel, a woman named Sylvia Mackey finishes talking about her husband. He's an NFL Hall of Famer whose Alzheimer's disease is now so bad she has to trick him into showering.
Just before Sylvia's story, a former NFL quarterback named Eric Hipple talks about the seven surgeries in his career and the failed suicide attempt after it. He was riding in the car with his wife when he wrote a note to her and jumped out.
This is all happening Wednesday night, at an event the NFL is sponsoring and calling "NFL Community Huddle: Taking a Goal Line Stand for Your Mind & Body." Many of the people listening are former professional football players.
Bill Maas isn't there. Not anymore. Maas is a former Chiefs Pro Bowler diagnosed with the kind of brain damage that will likely cause full-on dementia. Every day brings a new reason to worry, but never any answers, so he left this place early , frustrated and angry.
"Honestly, I just couldn't sit there," he says. "I'm like, you want to know my (expletive) issues? I can't sit here for four hours and (expletive) tell you (expletive) my issues. OK? I can't sleep every (expletive) night. I'm wrapping pillows around my head all (expletive) night so I can stop the screaming in my ears.
"And I'm going to sit here for (expletive) four hours and we're just going to talk all nice about our issues and what's bothering us? I couldn't believe it."
The folks who organized this event say they did a ton of publicizing. Thousands of fliers went up around town, various media organizations were contacted, and 101 people showed up. The folks here say that's a pretty good number, actually, which is pretty sad.
High school coaches should've heard this. College coaches. Youth coaches. Parents. They should've heard former Surgeon General David Satcher define mental health like this:
"The successful performance of mental function resulting in productive activities, fulfilling relationships with others, and the ability to adapt to change and to successfully cope with adversity."
And they should've heard Hipple and Mackey talk about how football can help rip all of that away.
This issue is gaining more attention as more former NFL players suffer from debilitating and disheartening injuries and diseases related to their violent profession.
Dave Duerson played 11 seasons and was the NFL's Man of the Year in 1987. He suffered from a neurodegenerative disease linked to concussions and shot himself in the chest so that his brain could be used for research.
Stories like this are turning more attention to the darker side of our national sports obsession, but Satcher says mental health issues are still largely ignored. He talks about the reluctance of people to get checked out, particularly in the African-American and Asian communities, which just makes the problem worse.
Events like this can highlight potential solutions, which always start with awareness and motivation, but at least on this night they can also highlight the problems.
Remember Sylvia Mackey's story about tricking her husband into showering? It actually drew laughter.
So did the line by 12-year NFL veteran Chris Martin about suffering "a lot of head injuries, but we didn't tally them up back then."
Doctors now consider the brain the most important organ in the body, surpassing the heart. But at the same event where Satcher calls poor mental health "as disabling as cancer and heart disease," a small crowd for whom this is all too real an issue is laughing about it.
Some of this is dark humor, and that's fine. Laughter can help all of us get through some otherwise miserable times.
But it's not helping to spread the message that this is a critical issue directly tied to our country's most popular sport.
And it's also not helping men like Maas, to whom the damage is already done. He is always quick to stress that he has no regrets, that he's not angry at the NFL, just frustrated at what he sees as a lot of the same rhetoric about a problem with precious little action to fix it.
He calls back to make sure you understand he means no disrespect to the players who stayed. His thoughts don't always come quickly--he describes his search for the right words like a cowboy stalking a calf with a long lasso--but when they come he wants to make sure they come out clearly.
"That wasn't a format of concern," he says. "If these guys are living with this stuff and feel the way that I'm telling you about, that causes them to want to go kill themselves because they can't tolerate it anymore, then that little get-together is not addressing what I'm talking about."
The event is over now and a lot of the players are hanging around a few minutes to tell jokes and old stories. Conrad Dobler is one of them. He's a three-time Pro Bowler who once made the cover of Sports Illustrated with the title: "Pro Football's Dirtiest Player."
His last game was 30 years ago, and nine knee replacements later, he lives in Kansas City now. Dobler stops on his way out and hears Maas' sentiment, about why he had to leave, and his frustration about how it's too late for any event like this to do much good for him.
There is a moment's pause.
"He's right and wrong," Dobler says. "Yeah, it's too late for us. We're crippled up. But you do have a responsibility in this world to make it a better place than you found it."
Dobler then tells a story he's told many times about being in the hospital and hearing a man brag that his teenage son just had his first knee surgery from playing football. Dobler wanted to jump from his hospital bed and punch the man.
There is another moment's pause, and Dobler looks around the room.
"There should've been more people here," he says.