CTE- MLS First Reported Case in Scott Vermillion and CTE in Sports
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a progressive decline in cognitive function following repeated blows and damage to the head. The diagnosis is commonly associated with concussions experienced by boxers, football players and other full-contact athletes, but smaller-contact hits can contribute to the condition. Vermillion died in 2020 of an overdose after 4-seasons of MLS, and suffered from repeated head trauma over 20-years of participation in the sport. CTE has been identified as a potential risk-factor for MLS players, and warrants an investigation into methods and mechanisms of injury for players.
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a progressive brain disorder that is often seen in athletes who engage in contact sports. The condition progresses similar to Alzheimer’s disease and affects memory, thinking, mood and body motions and functions. CTE has been noted for increases in aggression and depression and has been known to mimic Parkinson’s disease. CTE can only be definitively diagnosed during an autopsy and brain study, meaning that symptoms can be used to diagnose the condition, but the final diagnosis occurs after death.
CTE was first described in 1928 as “Punch Drunk Syndrome” by Dr. Martland. Famous boxers of the time displayed symptoms of neurological deterioration and brains were donated for autopsy. A large number of those suspected of this syndrome did show damage during autopsy. The NFL has notably identified players with CTE post-autopsy, and the league has taken steps to reduce the risk-factors of CTE by reducing helmet-to-helmet tackling. Junior Seau of the Chief died, and a lawsuit was filed that helped kick off NFL safety initiatives for CTE prevention. Owen Thomas, a 21-year old football player from the University of Pennsylvania was the youngest ever diagnosed CTE patient and like many with CTE, committed suicide. CTE is real, affects many athletes and can be reduced in frequency with initiatives and protective equipment.
Riddell has released a product to help reduce concussions in athletes and thus CTE incidences. Protective equipment and game-specific regulations such as the elimination of helmet-to-helmet tackling can help stop players from developing CTE. In MLS, a similar helmet or regulations on certain types of tackles and practices could help. Regular check-ups and physician reviews could be very helpful, and we need to invest more into CTE detection and treatment. Some funding from games could be used to move these initiatives forward.
All sports must adapt to the reality of the possibility of CTE for their players. Technology, policy and adequate monitoring of players must all be implemented to prevent further injury. Early detection of injury and prevention of small and large head strikes is essential, and does not need to take action from the entertainment on the field. Brain scans that detect CTE definitively during life should be developed to identify and treat the disease. Athletes need to be protected in every sport with common-sense and good medical and technological practices.
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