Troy Ellis was an incredible athlete and fierce competitor. He was revered by the community for his time playing football as a Massillon Tiger. In his late 20s, he started becoming forgetful, angry, and impulsive. Troy died by suicide on December 26, 2021, at the age of 34. His brain was later donated to the UNITE Brain Bank, where researchers diagnosed him with stage 1 (of 4) CTE. Troy’s mother Cheryl is sharing the Legacy of her son in the hopes other parents learn about the disease and make wise choices for their children.
By Cheryl Carter
Warning: This story contains mentions of suicide and may be triggering to some readers.
Troy Ellis had a big presence and an infectious personality. He was very handsome and charismatic. The boy could dance too, and he was the life of the party. He was often told how much he looked like Channing Tatum. Troy thought he could play Channing’s younger brother in a movie. He would say, “If I was given a dollar for every time someone told me I looked like Channing, I’d be a millionaire.” He was fun, energetic, lovable, and loved by many. He recited lines from movies on a regular basis, especially from the movie Forrest Gump, which always produced lots of laughs.
Troy Boy was a natural athlete, showing his abilities very early on in his life. He couldn’t even walk yet but was always reaching for a ball of some sort. When he was two years old, he received a baseball and glove as gifts. He slept with them and called it his “glub.” His older sister, Lauren, was also very athletic. I knew, as well as their father, that we were going to spend a great deal of our lives watching them play sports. They were talented and eager to compete. They made each other better and there were fights along the way. Both were voted “Most Athletic” by their peers in high school. His sister was his hero. Troy was Lauren’s best person and stood up for her when she was married.
Troy played soccer, basketball, baseball, and of course, football, which he started in the fifth grade. He played for the storied Massillon Tigers in Massillon, Ohio. Football is close to godliness in Massillon. Troy loved the game. You are somebody when you are a Massillon Tiger. Little kids looked up to him and wanted his autograph. He was a three-year starter and never missed a game, playing cornerback, wide receiver, and punt returner. He was second team All-Ohio his senior year and was on the All-Stark County Team. He played in the Big 33 game in Hershey, Pennsylvania in 2006. He was a one-man highlight reel his senior year against Cincinnati Elder at the Cincinnati Bengals stadium. He had five interceptions in this one game (a record for the Massillon Tigers) while also recovering a fumble and returning it for a touchdown. He was named the game’s MVP.
Troy was known as a hard hitter and received the Bob Cummings Hardnose Award his senior year as voted on by members of the Massillon Tiger Booster Club. Former NFL player Chris Spielman also won the same award in the past. Troy received many accolades in the sports he played and he earned them all.
As his mother, I always thought baseball was Troy’s best sport. He was a four-year varsity starter in high school, the first at Massillon since 1975. He played second base and then shortstop. He played for the Stark County Stars in summer ball. A local reporter said, “Troy is the epitome of a leadoff hitter.” He went on to play shortstop at a junior college, Olney Central College in Illinois, for two years. While at Olney, he played a game at Busch Stadium. He also played Class A ball in Kentucky and played for the Canton Terriers.
Troy had a son, Ashton, who was 10 at the time of Troy’s death. Troy and Ashton’s mother were no longer together, but he would get Ashton nearly every weekend. He enjoyed teaching him about baseball, football, and basketball. He installed a basketball hoop in his basement for Ashton. They would go fishing, golfing, roller skating, and played laser tag. He also shared his love of music and dancing with his son. Several years ago, Troy bought Ashton a pair of LeBron’s shoes in a large size that he has yet to grow into.
Troy was employed as a third generation plumber and pipefitter out of Local 94 in Canton, Ohio. His coworkers loved working with him. He also helped coach a middle school girls’ basketball team and was often known to lend a helping hand to others.
Troy had multiple head traumas from a young age. He fell out of a wagon and hit the back of his head on the cement floor. He fell off the side of the basement steps. He rode his bike down the deck steps. The front wheel came off of his bike and he fell face first into the sidewalk. The worst head injury was when he fell out of a tree at age eight and had a brain bleed. That was the worst day of my life, until the day he died. He was in the ICU for three days and in the hospital for a week. In time, he recovered and was cleared to continue playing sports. Additionally, he took a nasty pitch to the left side of his face while playing college baseball.
I would say around 2014 is when we started noticing changes in Troy’s behavior. He was very forgetful, erratic, angry, and engaged in risky and impulsive behavior. He started to struggle with life in general, including with money and getting in trouble with the law. He had relationship issues with family members, friends, and with women. In hindsight, I don’t think he was capable of settling down due to the CTE. I was so worried about him all the time. By 2020, the only thing predictable about Troy was his unpredictability.
In the early morning hours of December 26, 2021, Troy was believed to be the person who started a fire at his girlfriend’s home. The house was destroyed but fortunately no one was home at the time. Several hours later I received a call to go check on him. I did and he was distraught like I had never seen him before. He would not let me in the house. Shortly thereafter, he shot himself in the chest. As he was being loaded into the ambulance, he told me he was sorry. I could not see where he had been wounded but asked him if he was OK. He said, “I’m gone.” He told the paramedic to tell me he was sorry, that he loved me and this wasn’t my fault. He made the paramedic promise to tell me. Troy died three hours later. We did not get a chance to see or talk to him again.
The Massillon Tiger Community honored him after his death. Bracelets were made and sold with his football number on them and engraved “#28 Forever T.E.” Baseball hats were made with his number, as well as jerseys with a picture of Troy on the inside of the back of the neck. This way, Troy could “have their back.” Family members started a crowdfunding and all of the funds are being held for his son. The person at the mall who made the hats said, “We have made so many of these hats in memory of Troy Ellis. He must have been someone very special.”
I need to emphasize that I am not attempting to glorify Massillon Tiger football. I’m simply telling a true story about my son and his history of being a Tiger. Massillon football fans tend to over glorify their players. The kids are put on a pedestal and it’s just too much at times. The players in this program are more revered than those at most college programs. Many players have gone on to college and it has been a big letdown for them. I look at football through a totally different lens now.
After Troy’s death, his brain was donated to the UNITE Brain Bank, where researchers diagnosed him with stage 1 (of 4) CTE. Had I known more about CTE, I would never have allowed him to play football. I have learned so much more about CTE and the devastating consequences it brings. I would never advise anyone to play football, or any sport suspected of causing CTE. His glory days turned into his gory days because of CTE. Simply put, the glory days were not worth it. I strongly urge parents to do their own research into CTE and make wise choices for their children, including supporting CLF’s Stop Hitting Kids in the Head. I certainly wish that I had. It’s too late for me now.
Troy said to me, later in life, “Football is a violent game, played by violent men.” After he passed, we were told that Troy had shared with others that he had “demons in his head and he was scared for himself.” He also said there was something wrong between his ears. He never shared that information with us.
We are all devastated and continue to carry a heavy load of grief, and the guilt that comes along when a loved one takes their own life. We love and miss him constantly.
Suicide is preventable and help is available. If you are concerned that someone in your life may be suicidal, the five #BeThe1To steps are simple actions anyone can take to help someone in crisis. If you are struggling to cope and would like some emotional support, call the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 to connect with a trained counselor. It’s free, confidential, and available to everyone in the United States. You do not have to be suicidal to call.
Are you or someone you know struggling with lingering concussion symptoms? We support patients and families through the CLF HelpLine, providing personalized help to those struggling with the outcomes of brain injury. Submit your request today and a dedicated member of the Concussion Legacy Foundation team will be happy to assist you.
Suicide Prevention Resources
Nobody should have to go through a crisis alone. Dial 9-8-8 if you or a loved one is in crisis or suicidal.Suicide Prevention Lifeline
We can all play a role in preventing suicide. Learn the five steps to help you #BeThe1To support someone in crisis.#BeThe1To Resources