BOSTON – Researchers have diagnosed chronic traumatic encephalopathy for the first time in a Major League Soccer player, saying on Tuesday that former Sporting Kansas City defender Scott Vermillion was suffering from the degenerative brain disease.
The Boston University CTE Center said Vermillion, who died of an accidental drug overdose in December 2020 at age 44, had CTE. While it is not possible to link an individual case to a cause, the disease has been associated with repeated blows to the head.
CTE has been found in more than 100 former NFL players, as well as semi-professional and high school soccer players. Vermillion is the first of MLS.
“Mr. Vermillion has shown us that footballers are at risk for CTE,” said Dr. Ann McKee, director of the BU CTE Center. “We must do all we can to identify players who are suffering and provide them with compassionate care and appropriate medical support to offer.”
Vermillion started playing football at age 5 and went on for 22 years, culminating in four MLS seasons for DC United, the Colorado Rapids and Sporting KC. He also played for the United States at the 1993 World Under-17 Championship and made some appearances for the Under-20 team in 1996.
After he retired in 2001 with an ankle injury, his family said, he became depressed and had problems with impulse control and aggression. He eventually suffered from amnesia and developed a substance abuse problem.
All have been linked to CTE, which has been linked to concussion or subconcussive blows in athletes, combat veterans, and others who suffer repeated head trauma.
“This disease is destroying families, not just football families,” said Vermillion’s father, Dave Vermillion. “We hope this will be a wake-up call for the football community to support former players and give them the help they need so that something good can come of this tragedy.”
The MLS Players Association called on the league to break with the sport’s international governing bodies and pass a rule extending substitutions to allow players with concussions.
“We should not wait for them to do the right thing. MLS must immediately unilaterally adopt a full concussion replacement rule,” the union said in a statement. “Current replacement rules do not give medical professionals sufficient time to properly diagnose possible concussions without putting a team at a significant competitive disadvantage.”
The Concussion Legacy Foundation has called for rules limiting football tackling and football headers to children over the age of 14. CLF co-founder Chris Nowinski said dementia has already been linked to repeated headlines by professional football players in Britain.
“It’s time for the global football community to have a real conversation about headlines, especially in the youth game,” Nowinski said. “We urgently need to examine how far this crisis extends into amateur football and immediately implement reforms to prevent CTE in the next generation.”
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