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College Football Player’s Suicide Raises New Issues On Link Between Concussions, Brain Disease

The suicides and evidence keep piling up. And the latest development should be terrifying for any football player and his parents, from Pee Wee Football to an NFL linebacker. 

 In what has been stellar ongoing reporting on concussions and football, The New York Times Tuesday had a Page One story on yet another football player, Owen Thomas of the University of Pennsylvania, taking his own life. Its headline was “In College Player’s Suicide, Signs of Disease that Haunts the NFL.”

The 21-year-old, a popular kid who never had a problem with depression, hung himself in April. His family allowed brain-injury researchers to examine his brain tissue, and the results of those tests are in. And the results are disturbing.

It turns out out that this young man already had the same brain-trauma induced disease — chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE — that has been discovered in the brains of 20 deceased National Football League players. As The Times notes CTE, linked to concussions, has caused depression and impulse issues in pro football players, who have had lost two colleagues who committed suicide, like young Thomas.

What’s unnerving about the Thomas case was that he apparently developed CTE even though he had never  been diagnosed with a  concussion.  So his doctors believe that his CTE “must have developed from concussions he dismissed or from the thousands of subconcussive collisions he withstood in his dozen years of football, most of them while his brain was developing,” according to The Times.

For football, and particularly parents who allow their young sons to play the sport, the news that CTE can develop when a player suffers hard-to-detect-brain damage below the concussion level should be frightening. I’d suggest that you think twice before allowing your son to play the game.

The Times said that Thomas is the youngest non-pro football player to be diagnosed with full-blown CTE.

His parents, the Rev. Tom Thomas and the Rev, Kathy Brearley, deserve credit for going public with their son’s case, as painful as it must be to have the spotlight put on his suicide again. But they wanted Americans, and parents, to be aware of the news regarding the damage that non-concussive brain injury can inflict, starting at an early age.

Coincidentally, last Saturday the Palm Beach post published a story about another football players who committed suicide, and whose brain was later studied and found to have CTE, which is also known as “gridiron dementia” and “concussion-drunk syndrome.”

That article was about former Philadelphia Eagles safety Andre Waters, who was nicknamed Dirty Waters because of his aggressive on-field behavior. Roughly four years ago Waters took his own life, shooting himself with a Smith & Wesson when he was only 44.  

When he was alive, Waters had stopped counting his concussions at No. 15, according to the Palm Beach Post.

But Thomas didn’t have to sustain that many, or perhaps any, concussions to get CTE just like Waters. 










One thought on “College Football Player’s Suicide Raises New Issues On Link Between Concussions, Brain Disease

  1. Jim Bob Infanger

    My son EJ Infanger who was one of the most positive young men ever to walk this world took his own life in Dennsion Iowa. He played footbal at Morningside College and was all american middle line backer. He had not shown any signs that we had noticed of that type of depression. His autopcy discovered he had a 80% blockage of the left main aorta. Hence many nights sleep lately thinking he had acid reflux was more than likely heart troubles. We are wondering if this could add to the lack of abiltiy to reason properly when stress came? His memorial in Denison is on April 30, 2011. Any insights would be appreciated.

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