Waters, 44, died early yesterday from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. He took with him the answer to the only question — Why, Andre, why? — worth asking. He may have given at least part of an answer in that nearly three-hour phone conversation in April.
He wasn’t just frustrated and bitter about his inability to find a job with an NFL team. He was personally hurt by a system he believed used players up and spit them back out. But then, everything was personal with Waters.
That seems surprising, since he was the most violent and reckless of football players, but the contradiction isn’t hard to explain. It was because Waters was a sweet-tempered, gentle soul that he had to be so vicious on the field. That’s how this too-small undrafted safety from Cheyney State made it through a 12-year NFL career.
When he was a young player, clinging to a roster spot as a special-teamer, Waters was painfully shy. He had a stammer that made him too self-conscious to do interviews. He took classes to lose that stammer and became one of the most outgoing and personable and quotable Eagles of the last quarter-century.
With hard work, Waters believed, you could accomplish anything.
That’s what made his estrangement from the league and the game so hard. Waters told me that he woke up some mornings in too much pain to get out of bed. His body burned and ached from every big collision he made in a career spent throwing his body at bigger men. He said he could link each pain to a particular hit or injury.
“I played because I loved it,” he said. “I’m not looking for sympathy, because it’s what I wanted to do. I just don’t think people realize the players they cheer for wind up unable to walk or sleep because of pain.”