- Former Major League Soccer player Scott Vermillion has been posthumously diagnosed with CTE.
- CTE is a progressive brain condition believed to be caused by repeated impacts to the head.
- The researchers said Vermillion’s death highlights the risks associated with football, not just high-contact sports like American football.
An American football player who died in 2020 is the first to be officially diagnosed with CTE, a debilitating brain disorder more commonly associated with contact sports, such as football.
The family of Scott Vermillion, who played for Major League Soccer (MLS) teams including the Kansas City Wizards, revealed on Tuesday that he was diagnosed with Stage 2 CTE by researchers at the Boston University CTE Center. . It was the same center that diagnosed Aaron Hernandez, the NFL player who took his own life after being convicted of murder. Hernandez had stage 4 CTEthe most severe case ever seen in a person in their 20s, according to BU.
CTE (or Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) is a progressive brain condition believed to be caused by repeated blows to the head.
Although the disease can only be diagnosed by autopsy, people with CTE often suffer in life from memory loss, lack of impulse control, aggression, forms of dementia, suicidal ideation and anxiety, Dr. Chris Nowinski, a neuroscientist and former football player, told Insider.
Vermillion died in December 2020 of an accidental drug overdose at the age of 44, 19 years after his professional career ended in 2001. His diagnosis adds to growing concerns about the role of football in the development of the disease through repeated headers.
In the press release, Vermillion’s family said the former player suffered from numerous mood swings associated with CTE after his professional football career ended.
Cami Jones, Vermillion’s ex-wife, said The New York Times that she saw Vermillion become more lethargic and headache-prone before he even retired. In the ten years following his career, Vermillion’s family reported an increase in impulse control issues, aggression, and depression. These symptoms slowly worsened over the last decade of Vermillion’s life as he lost his memory and increasingly struggled with drug addiction, Jones told The Times. Vermillion’s mother contacted BU’s CTE Center shortly after her son’s death to have his brain examined by researchers, reported the Times.
Experts told Insider that detecting abnormalities early through MRIs of the brain and reducing the frequency with which athletes are exposed to head trauma can help treat the condition.
Researchers call for pre-season psychological testing to catch cases early
Although cases of CTE have notably been linked to contact sports such as American football, Vermillion’s diagnosis, as well as a 2017 University College London study of CTE in former football playersrevealed that the disease may also be more widespread than previously thought in football.
“Yes, we have a lot more experience with American football players, we now have hundreds and hundreds of players with CTE in American football. But we also have American football players, ice hockey, rugby, wrestling, MMA, boxing and we have certainly seen more and more that CTE is a potential risk of playing football,” said Dr Ann Mckee, director of the CTE center at the University of Boston as well as Chief of Neuropathology for the VA Boston Healthcare System.
McKee, who has conducted some of the most important research on CTE over the past decade and has diagnosed the most high-profile cases of CTE in NFL players to date, believes pre- and post-season testing through neuropsychological, MRI and biomarker exams could be a positive next step in the fight against the disease.
“Many studies now show that in football, rugby, ice hockey, soccer, active players develop changes that can be detected after just one season. But we don’t usually look for them. And you don’t find a problem if you ignore it. And that’s kind of the standard approach right now,” McKee said.
Set age limit for young footballers, says neuroscientist
Nowinski told Insider that addressing CTE means limiting the amount of head impact players experience throughout their lives. He suggests raising the recommended minimum age at which children can start heading from 11 to 14. under the rules of the United States Soccer Federationwhich would give their brains more time to develop.
For anyone who thinks they have CTE, there are steps you can take to treat your symptoms, Nowinski says.
“We can’t stop the disease yet, but depending on what you’re dealing with, if it’s caused by CTE, it can probably be improved,” he said.
Doctors can help patients who experience memory, mood, anxiety and sleep issues with medication, skill development and treatment, Nowinski said. resources like the Legacy Foundation Concussion Helpline can help.