According to a report by Bill Pennington of the New York Times, when former New York Giants safety Tyler Sash passed away in September at the age of 27, he was found to have very high levels of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE, a progressive degenerative disorder of the brain.
CTE occurs when an individual suffers repeated brain trauma. Recently, a consensus panel of neuropathologists had concluded that CTE was a distinctive disease with its unique pathological signature on the brain, which was different from signs of aging and Alzheimer’s disease.
Sash died on September 8th, 2015 after accidently overdosing on painkillers. His family then donated his brain to be studied for CTE. According to Dr. Ann McKee of the Boston University School of Medicine, who conducted the examination of Sash’s brain, the safety’s case of CTE was severe for an individual who was 27 years old. Measured on a severity scale of 0-4, the results of the study found that Sash suffered from Stage 2 CTE, which may have contributed to his accidental overdose of pain medication.
According to Dr. Ann Mckee, “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 CTE." Pennington of New York Times concurs, saying, "Certainly, 16 years is a high exposure."
Dr. Ann McKee’s report also mentioned that Sash suffered "at least" five concussions and dealt with "confusion, memory loss and minor fits of temper."
Citing McKee, Pennington also reported that Sash suffered from the same severity of CTE as Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau’s at the time of his death in 2012.
After playing three years at the University of Iowa, Tyler Sash was drafted in the sixth round of the NFL Draft by the New York Giants. Sash participated in 23 regular-season games during the 2011 and 2012 seasons. Operating primarily as a backup, Sash totaled 17 solo tackles and a forced fumble. Also, Sash also recorded two solo tackles and three assisted tackles during the Giants Super Bowl run in 2011.
As quoted in the New York Times article, experts believe that less severe trauma to the head (i.e. those not strong enough to cause a concussion) may also significantly contribute to the damage that results in CTE. Neuropathologists opine that these lesser traumas are particularly troubling because they frequently happen in contact sports like football, hockey, and boxing, but often go undiagnosed. While presently, there is no medical consensus on how much trauma a brain would have to experience to develop CTE, children who continue to play high-impact contact sports over many seasons, are more likely to suffer from repeated concussions and brain trauma that may cause irreversible brain damage. Wearing appropriate safety equipment when participating in certain high-impact sports, such as football, rugby, and ice hockey can help protect the brain from repeated trauma.
Written by Shaun Peterson