Subjects: Behavioral health
Using special post-mortem techniques, Boston University scientists have determined that former Tampa Bay Buccaneer player Tom McHale had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, an exceptionally rare progressive condition caused by repetitive concussive and sub-concussive head trauma.
Rare except in former NFL players, that is.
Stunningly, physicians have now identified CTE in every NFL veteran that died between the ages of 36 and 50 and who was tested for the condition, which normally precipitates full-blown dementia before age 50.
McHale was 45 when he died.
In fact the only NFL player who was found to be free of the condition at the time of death was running back Damien Nash, who died suddenly in 2007 at 24. Then again, the progressive condition is simply not seen in someone that young.
“It’s scary — it’s horribly frightening,” Randy Grimes told the New York Times. For years, Grimes played alongside McHale on the Bucs’ offensive line.
“I’ve had my share of concussions, too. More than my share. My wife says I have short-term memory loss. It’s really scary to think of what might be going on up there.”
“This is a medically significant finding,” Daniel Perl, Mount Sinai’s director of neuropathology told the Times.
“I think with a sixth case identified, out of six, for a condition that is incredibly rare in the general population, there is more than enough evidence that football is clearly strongly related to the presence of this pathology.”
Ira Casson, co-chairman of an NFL concussion study group, didn’t see it that way. “I think there are many questions still out there as to whether there is a kind of traumatic encephalopathy associated with football. I think we don’t know. I think there is not enough evidence to say there is.”
Say what? Meanwhile, an NFL player brochure emphasizes that concussions are serious while adding that “current research with professional athletes” does not prove that multiple concussions have negative consequences so long as “each injury is managed properly.”
The brochure does not mention CTE.
McHale did not develop dementia per se but his life had spiraled tragically out of control since 2005 when he began loading up on OxyContin to control joint and shoulder pain.
Then he started to snort coke to offset the Oxy-induced lethargy which led to several rehab stints and before long he was dead of an accidental OD involving both substances.
BU’s Ann McKee, who will publish her findings shortly, is certain McHale’s brain damage was not caused by drug abuse. Quite the opposite in fact. She thinks McHale’s CTE caused his self-destructive behavior.
“You would expect the symptoms of lack of insight, poor judgment, decreased concentration and attention, inability to multitask and memory problems,” McKee told the Times.