A MARTINEZ, HOST:
Three years ago, we brought you a story about former NFL player and MORNING EDITION commentator Tim Green. He was battling ALS, which is also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Green and his doctors believed it was caused at least partly by football. While his body deteriorates, Green's mind remains sharp. He's now written a new personal book for kids. NPR's Tom Goldman reports.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: When I visited Tim Green in 2018, he greeted me standing in the kitchen of his upstate New York home.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
TIM GREEN: Good to see you. Yeah.
GOLDMAN: Good to see you.
I'd known him since the 1990s when he was playing pro football and doing NPR commentaries. And the physical changes were startling. His speech was strained and halting. He moved slowly but still could do light workouts. This week connecting on Zoom, he described how his ALS has continued its brutal progression.
TIM GREEN: I've lost my voice and my ability to eat. I cannot breathe on my own. I can't walk. I can't even raise my arms to scratch my face.
GOLDMAN: Green speaks using technology. He stares at a keyboard and forms words letter by letter, which are translated into a computer-generated voice. It sounds flat, and it bugs Green, but it's communication. He's been on a ventilator since 2019. He initially balked at the idea.
TIM GREEN: I felt like at that point that life wouldn't be worth living if you couldn't do something as fundamental as breathing on your own.
GOLDMAN: But his son Troy, who Green calls his life coach, gave him a stark pep talk.
TIM GREEN: He said I didn't need my body anymore. All I needed was my mind.
GOLDMAN: It was an excruciating realization for such a physical man. But Green always was a different kind of football player, a voracious reader and writer. And through his writing, especially for kids, he says he loves to create readers. "Final Season," published this week, is the story of a sixth-grade boy who's coached in football by two older brothers and his dad, who has ALS, and, in Green's words, is falling apart in front of him. It's a story drawn from Green's life right down to the conflict family members had about their sixth grader, Ty. Green, who says the game is much safer than when he played, wanted Ty to play if Ty wanted to. Green's wife, Illyssa, seeing what football could lead to, was against it.
TIM GREEN: The tension in the family was thick just as it is in the book.
GOLDMAN: Troy Green says, in real life, the three brothers and dad did have a memorable final season together.
TROY GREEN: And then my dad talked to my brother and said hey, it's your choice at the end of the day.
GOLDMAN: It appears Illyssa won. Ty, now 15, is focused on lacrosse. Tim Green was diagnosed with ALS in 2016. He says life expectancy was about three years, which prompts him to joke.
TIM GREEN: I'm at least two years past my expiration date.
GOLDMAN: He's inspired by another former NFL player with ALS, Steve Gleason, the subject of the acclaimed documentary "Gleason."
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GLEASON")
STEVE GLEASON: I have been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. This disease is almost always fatal.
GOLDMAN: Green notes Gleason now is 10 years out from his diagnosis.
TIM GREEN: He'll tell you that his secret is to have a purpose-driven life.
GOLDMAN: Green says he has plenty - enjoying kids and grandkids, working still for his law firm and writing. He's halfway through his next book, a memoir. And he's promoting "Final Season." All the proceeds go to his Tackle ALS fundraiser. All of these, he says, are gifts he won't squander with despair. Tom Goldman, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.