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Cases of CTE in soccer players raise concern over ball header – NBC Chicago

English football star Jimmy Fryatt was known for his ability to head the ball, and proof of his prowess may be in the damage he caused to his brain.

Still physically fit in his late 70s, Fryatt played tennis but couldn’t keep score or remember which side of the net he was supposed to be on. He lived in Las Vegas for almost 50 years but started getting lost while biking around the neighborhood.

“I had to put a tracker on him,” his wife, Valerie, said this week. “I would call him and say, ‘Stop it. I’m coming to get you.'”

A North American Football League champion who played 18 years in Britain, Fryatt is one of four former professional football players newly diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy. The Concussion Legacy Foundation announced on Tuesday that England pro and Oregon State head coach Jimmy Conway, NASL Scottish and Seattle midfielder Jimmy Gabriel and NCAA champion Franny Pantuosco have also joined. proven to have the degenerative brain disease that has been linked to concussions in athletes, combat veterans and others who have suffered repeated head injuries.

These are the first diagnoses among those who played in the NASL, a forerunner of MLS as America’s top professional soccer league that captured attention with high profile signings – including Pele – before folding in 1985.

Valerie Fryatt said her husband had multiple concussions diagnosed, but ETC researchers believe the condition may also be caused by repeated sub-concussive blows to the head.

In football, this means directing the ball.

“Jimmy was a prolific header from the ball. He was very good at it,” Valerie Fryatt said. “A lot of players from that era said he was the best header they had ever seen.”

The new diagnoses come as soccer officials gather in Chicago for a head injury summit, a conference co-hosted by US Soccer and America’s top men’s and women’s professional leagues that promises ‘two days of presentations and panel discussions facilitated by health professionals, stakeholders and researchers. ”

But ETC researchers and families of those affected by the disease say the agenda, guest list – and even the name – belie the desire to only give the appearance of coping with brain damage, which is part of a trend among sports leagues to downplay the long-term effects of concussions and delay measures that could prevent them.

“In rugby and hockey and, of course, always in football, we are so familiar with this,” said Dr Ann McKee, director of the Boston University CTE Center – the brain bank that led the research on the disease that can cause memory loss, violent mood swings, depression and other cognitive difficulties.

“I’m sorry. I have a very blasé view of these peaks,” she said. “I think a lot of it is a PR stunt production to make people think they’re taking the injury and the condition seriously. But they’re so superficial in the portrayal…that the result is run in advance.

A U.S. football spokesperson listed as a media contact during a statement from the summit did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A Major League Soccer spokeswoman has forwarded an agenda, which lists panels led by, among others, scientists, football officials and unnamed current and former players.

But no researchers from the BU CTE Center were invited to speak at the summit, even though McKee and Robert Cantu are two of the most published, prolific — and outspoken — in the field. (US Soccer Federation president Cindy Parlow Cone is among those who have pledged their brains to BU for research.)

“What happens with these big sports groups is that they often bring in a list full of people who downplay the long-term effects,” McKee said. “And they go away saying, ‘Here we made a summit. We have reviewed the evidence. It’s not very strong and scientists are undecided. And so it’s kind of a done deal that they have nothing to do with it.

Even the title was a problem for Concussion Legacy Foundation co-founder Chris Nowinski, a former Harvard football player turned professional wrestler turned Ph.D. who has been a leader in educating professional athletes and amateurs on the dangers of concussions.

“‘Head injury’ is what you say when you don’t take it seriously,” Nowinski said. “Calling it ‘head injury’ when you’re actually talking about ‘brain injury’ is a tactic the NFL was using.”

BU researchers have diagnosed more than 100 football players with CTE; it has also been found in boxers and rugby players and professional wrestlers and members of the military. Cases among soccer players — at least in the United States — have been less frequent, but researchers expect the number to rise now that those who started playing the growing sport when they were children reach old age.

Last year, Scott Vermillion was announced as the first former MLS player to be diagnosed with CTE. His father, David Vermillion, said he would have made it his “first priority” to attend the summit if he had been invited.

Instead, he goes on a family vacation.

“They won’t have people there who have dealt with it firsthand,” Vermillion said. “People like that with all that knowledge, which can help make things safer for athletes, won’t be there.”

Nowinski said he offered to connect summit organizers with the families of those who died with CTE but was ghosted.

“It’s not good for business, I guess,” said Bruce Murray, a former U.S. national team member who has gone public with his cognitive difficulties.

“They also need to hear the bad side of it. I had an ugly side and Scott Vermillion died very ugly,” Murray said. “He was pretty normal, then he flipped. I don’t know if I’m going to fall backwards. There is no doubt that something is happening. »

CTE can only be diagnosed posthumously. Vermillion, Fryatt and Conway died in 2020. Conway revealed 10 years before his death that he had been diagnosed with dementia. Gabriel’s family reported cognitive difficulties and depression for the last twelve years of his life before his death in 2021. Pantuosco also died in 2021.

All four had the most severe stage of the disease, McKee said.

McKee said the families of CTE victims are often the best source of information on how to recognize brain damage, which can take years to develop and cause problematic behaviors like alcohol abuse or swings. violent moods that can destroy families uneducated about the underlying cause.

“They are human beings. It is the people who played the game, who made the owners rich, who caused the fans to have all the fun, who are really responsible for the popularity of football today,” he said. said McKee. “And yet when they get into trouble, when they start to develop problematic behaviors, when their families start to hurt, when they start to hurt, no one pays attention to it, including those highs.

NBC Chicago

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