BOSTON (AFP) – Researchers have diagnosed chronic traumatic encephalopathy in a Major League Soccer player for the first time, saying on Tuesday that defender Scott Vermillion has a degenerative brain disease.
The Boston University CTE Center said Vermillion, who died of a drug overdose in December 2020 at the age of 44, had the disease. Although it is not possible to link any individual case to any cause, CTE has been linked to repeated blows to the head.
CTE is found in more than 100 former NFL players as well as semi-professional and high school football players. Vermillion, who has played for the Kansas City Wizards, Colorado Rapids and DC United, is the first from the MLS.
“Vermillion has shown us that footballers are at risk of developing CTE,” said Dr. Ann Mackie, Director of BU CTE. “We need to do everything we can to identify players who are suffering and provide them with compassionate care and appropriate medical support. “
Vermillion began playing football at the age of five and continued for 22 years, culminating in four MLS seasons. He also played for the United States in the World Under-17 Championship in 1993 and participated in some matches with the Under-20 team in 1996.
After retiring in 2001 with an ankle injury, his family said, he became depressed and had problems with impulse control and aggression. Eventually, he suffered from memory loss and developed a substance abuse problem.
All have been associated with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which has been linked to concussion or subconcussive blows in athletes, veterans, and others with recurrent head injuries.
“This disease is devastating families, not just football families,” said Vermillion’s father, Dave Vermillion. “We hope this is a wake-up call for the football community to support former players and provide them with the help they need, so some good can come from this tragedy.”
The MLS Players Association has called for the league to separate from the sport’s international governing bodies and adopt a rule to expand substitutions to allow players with concussions.
“We must not sit around and wait for them to do the right thing. MLS should unilaterally adopt a complete rule of concussion replacement immediately.” Current substitution rules do not give medical professionals enough time to properly diagnose potential concussions without putting a team in disadvantageous competitive situation.
Major League Soccer’s chief medical officer Margot Potokian said the league has “comprehensive policies in place to educate players, coaches, officials and medical staff about the importance of head injury identification, early reporting and treatment.”
“MLS is a leader in the sport, advocates for and trials the FIFA Alternative Concussion Program, and implements a medical program to identify potential head injuries and remove any player suspected of having a head injury from play for evaluation and treatment when necessary,” Potokian said. “There is always more progress to be made, and MLS is deeply committed to this important work.”
The Concussion Legacy Foundation has called for rules that would limit soccer tackling and orientation in soccer to children over 14. Chris Nowinsky, one of the founders of CLF, said dementia is already linked to recurrent head injury by professional footballers in Britain.
“It is time for the global football community to have a real conversation about headers, especially in the youth game,” Nowinsky said. “We urgently need to investigate the extent to which this crisis extends into amateur football and immediately put in place reforms to prevent CTE in the next generation.”
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