OSKALOOSA, Ia. — Barney Sash walked to the end of her late son’s driveway Friday afternoon and saw something that forced her to gather her emotions.
To her left was a line of cars five football fields long stretching down Fox Run Drive. The occasion was an estate sale for Barney Sash’s son, Tyler, a onetime football star who died a year ago at the age of 27.
“It’s just overwhelming to think maybe people came because they wanted a part of Tyler or something of his. Maybe they just wanted a garage sale item, I don’t know. But it was a little overwhelming to me. And that’s the first time I’ve cried today,” she said, flicking a tear from her eye about 45 minutes into the two-day sale at the house where she found her son dead on his couch last Labor Day morning. The house itself is also up for sale.
“At the end of his life, I don’t think he knew how much he meant to people,” Barney said of her son, “because he felt very alone at the end of his life. He was in a very dark place, really. He was just struggling, desperately.”
Tyler, who played safety for three seasons at Iowa and two with the New York Giants, died of an accidental overdose of the painkillers methadone and hydrocodone. He was taking them to deal with a shoulder muscle that was completely torn, but also was battling the debilitating symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the result of four diagnosed concussions.
Barney Sash said she knew about the frayed shoulder — though not the extent of it — but had no idea about the CTE until the results of a study of her son’s brain came back months later from experts at Boston University. She has become an outspoken critic of the punishment that football can inflict on human brains. But she also wants people to remember Tyler for more than just the circumstances of his death.
“I want him to be remembered as a very giving, loving, kind soul that cared very much about other people,” Sash said.
The estate sale, which ran from 1 to 8 p.m. Friday and concludes Saturday, running 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at 719 Fox Run Drive, has been planned for two weeks.
On Friday, about 40 people perused a driveway and two garages full of sports memorabilia and gear, along with mundane household items. There were three tables full of T-shirts and sweatshirts emblazoned with a personal mantra of Tyler Sash’s — “Get Better, Not Bitter,” or just “GBNB.” A weight machine with 180 pounds mounted on the bar was on display along with a professional massage table next to an outdoor grill.
Shoppers, some dressed in Hawkeyes gear, browsed through the items and proceeded to the bottom of the driveway, where payment was collected. One couple walked away with matching Giants shirts with Sash’s name and a No. 39 on them; another rolled a vacuum cleaner to a waiting truck.
In one garage, there was a table of items up for bid in a silent auction. These included game-worn Giants gear, an autographed picture of Sash from his Iowa days, and more. Bidding continues through noon Saturday.
Barney said the sale isn’t intended to bring closure to her grieving family.
“We’re only doing this because we’re trying to settle his estate and we can’t keep it. It’s just stuff,” she said. “This stuff doesn’t represent my son to me.”
Barney mingled with customers, talking to some she recognized, attentively asking questions of others. She said the pain of her son’s death has subsided in the past year, but it never goes away.
“You feel like you’re a spectator in the game of life and you’re standing, watching everyone else live theirs while you’re just in a state of existence,” she said before relaying the message that the parents of the late Iowa basketball star Chris Street shared with her last year.
“It’s kind of like a scab that you have the rest of your life, and it occasionally breaks open. You’re not really ready for that. You don’t always know when it’s going to happen,” she said.
“Now you belong to this club of people that you never wanted to be a part of.”
One such moment occurred in June, when the Sashes were on vacation (the family also includes Barney’s husband, Mike, children Josh and Megan, and five grandchildren) and Barney worked up the nerve to see the movie “Concussion.” She had to leave the theater after 15 minutes.
“If I think too hard about what the NFL has been doing and what they’re still doing to young men, that makes me angry. We have such an infatuation with this game of football, and I understand it, I really do. But I can’t watch it anymore because it cost my son a high price,” Sash said.
“I’m not angry with people who don’t feel the way I do, because if this hadn’t happened to my son I’d be on the other side of the fence, probably.”
Tyler Sash was cut by the Giants two years before he died after suffering his final concussion in the team’s final preseason game. He never played football again.
The Iowa head football coach speaks a day after the death of one of his former players. Chad Leistikow/HawkCentral.com
Barney said her son's life after that was marked by mood swings and bizarre behavior. She said he twice texted her threatening suicide, and when she rushed to his aide he appeared perfectly fine. She said he made five appointments with the NFL to talk about his medical problems, and all were canceled.
A devout Christian, Barney is certain that she’s going to be reunited with her son in heaven. Tyler was also outspoken about his faith, and a verse of scripture is inscribed in large chalk letters on one wall of the garage that doubled as his workout room: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
“I actually am thankful to the Lord that he took my son when he did, which is hard to swallow,” Barney said. “Because I wouldn’t in a million years want my son to go. But my son’s life was going to get more difficult because of the CTE.”
The Sashes saved some of Tyler’s personal items, like jackets from his Super Bowl appearances and his Hawkeye days. There’s also a gold football that the NFL shipped the family after Tyler’s death.
“I’d like to just send it back to them and say, ‘You can keep this',” Barney said.