In early September, Iowa great Tyler Sash shockingly passed away at just 27 years old. The former safety, who won a Super Bowl with the New York Giants, was found to have died due to an accidental mixture of drugs, but his family had his brain submitted for chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, testing. According to a report by The New York Times, Sash’s brain had a similar level of the disease to that of NFL legend Junior Seau, who committed suicide in 2012 at the age of 43.
Dr. Ann McKee, chief of neuropathology at the V.A. Boston Healthcare System and a professor of neurology and pathology at the Boston University School of Medicine who conducted the examination, said Tuesday that the severity of the C.T.E. in Sash’s brain was about the same as found in the brain of the former N.F.L. star Junior Seau, who committed suicide in 2012 at the age of 43.
Doctors grade C.T.E. on a severity scale from 0 to 4; Sash was at stage 2. McKee, comparing the results to other athletes who died at a similar age, said she had seen one case, a 25-year-old former college player, with a similar amount of the disease.
The Sash family, who released the findings, said the outcome brought some clarity to the end of Tyler Sash’s life.
“My son knew something was wrong but he couldn’t express it,” Barnetta Sash said Monday night. “He was such a good person, and it’s sad that he struggled so with this – not knowing where to go with it.”
CTE is a disease originally discovered by Dr. Bennet Omalu, the subject of the recent film Concussion. It has been found in the brains of numerous diseased former football players, and is connected to repeated concussions and even undiagnosed sub-concussive blows to the head sustained during games. Sash was found to have a high level of CTE, despite only playing a few years of professional football.
McKee added: “Even though he was only 27, he played 16 years of football, and we’re finding over and over that it’s the duration of exposure to football that gives you a high risk for C.T.E. Certainly, 16 years is a high exposure.”
There is still plenty of research to be done on the disease, but as a fan of the sport, these stories are always extremely disconcerting.