Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the debilitating brain disease researchers now know is caused by repetitive brain traumas, has marched its way through the alphabet of contact sports.
First was boxing and its generations of ‘punch-drunk’ former boxers. Football was next with the death of Pittsburgh Steelers’ center, Mike Webster from whose brain CTE was first identified. Ice hockey and professional wrestling followed with the first diagnoses of CTE among deceased players in both sports coming in 2007 and 2009 respectively. In 2012, the first professional baseball and soccer players were posthumously diagnosed with CTE. A year later, an Australian rugby player received the diagnosis.
Is there a Contact Sport Safe from Head Injury?
So, is there a safe contact sport? Curtis Baushke thought so.
At the age of 5, Baushke played both football and baseball. But injuries in both sports, including a pitch to the head, turned his interest to a “safer” sport – soccer.
The young athlete’s soccer career took off, leading Baushke to a freshman start on the high school varsity team and a role on a league that served as a feeder system to colleges.
Unfortunately, following several plays in which he’d “had his bell rung, sat out a couple of plays, and was told to go back in,” as Baushke’s father recalled, the young soccer player’s behavior began to change. He became addicted to the drugs used to treat his severe migraines. Other troubling behaviors followed.
The young Baushke told his parents he had CTE, but specialist after specialist found nothing on brain imaging.
Eventually, Baushke succumbed to an overdose of the drugs intended to help him. During autopsy, his brain revealed the tell-tale buildup of tau and severe brain atrophy.
In his switch to a “safer” sport, the soccer player was posthumously diagnosed with the disease he had predicted – CTE.
Adapted from The New York Times, 6/21/15.