By Ken Reed
As a sports policy analyst, I’ve learned a lot more about chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) than I ever expected to. Actually, at this point, I’ve learned more than I want to know.
CTE is a terrible degenerative disease, and it takes an immense toll on those that are stricken, as well as their families and friends.
I recently came across another heart-wrenching story about a former football player who died way too young, a victim of CTE’s deadly claws. The New York Times piece by Ken Belson was tough to read but instructive regarding CTE’s vicious impact.
Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, a star at the University of Washington, and a four-year veteran of the NFL (Tampa Bay and Philadelphia) was found dead at age 30 with a mix of alcohol and pain killers in his body. Upon autopsy, neuroscientists found CTE in his brain. His last years included typical CTE symptoms: paranoia, memory lapses, angry outbursts, disorientation, depression, etc. His personality at the end was almost a complete reversal of the one family and friends knew for most of his life: easygoing, giving, sincere.
It’s estimated that Te’o-Nesheim suffered nearly 100 concussions during his playing days (Ten of which left him unconscious.)
Toward the end of his playing career, Te’o-Nesheim became more and more distant. He stopped replying to emails from family and friends. When he did talk to them by phone he sounded like a different person.
“It was scary and we tried to reach out, but could not get him to open up,” said his sister Marie.
After his NFL days (Tampa Bay released him in 2013), his paranoia deepened. He lived in hotels and was constantly on the move. He thought he was being followed and thought maids were going through his trash. He thought someone was using his credit card only to discover that he had made the purchases and forgotten. He thought someone was “inside” his computers so he would destroy them and by new ones … again and again.
Eventually, Te’o-Nesheim knew he was in trouble. He was suffering physically and mentally. For years he hid a lot of his health problems from friends and family but in 2017 he reached out to Sam Katz, a Beverly Hills lawyer, who helps former players obtain disability benefits. He also asked Katz how to go about donating his brain to science.
After his death, the family of Te’o-Nesheim donated his brain to the Boston University CTE Center, where CTE was discovered in his brain.
“It’s always surprising and disturbing to see so many lesions in a guy who was just 30,” said McKee.
Unfortunately, coming across stories like this is becoming less and less surprising, but increasingly disturbing.
Research has shown that CTE-related symptoms happen more frequently in players who start tackle football before the age of 12. Te’o-Nesheim began playing tackle football at age 11. Between youth, high school, college and pro football, he played the game for half his life.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of FansPrint
- League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.