CTE Diagnosed in a Major League Soccer Player for the First MassNews

BOSTON — Researchers have diagnosed chronic traumatic encephalopathy in a Major League Soccer player for the first time, saying Tuesday that former Sporting Kansas City defender Scott Vermillion suffered from the degenerative brain disease.

According to the Boston University CTE Center, Vermillion died from an accidental overdose of drugs in December 2020. Vermillion was 44 years old. While it’s impossible to link every case to one cause, repeated head blows have been shown to be a common factor in the development of the disease.

CTE has been detected in more than 100 NFL and semi-pro players. Vermillion was the first to be identified by MLS.

“Mr. Vermillion has shown us that soccer players are at risk for CTE,” said Dr. Ann McKee, director of the BU CTE Center. “We need to make every effort to identify players who are suffering and provide them compassionate care and appropriate medical support.”

Vermillion played soccer from the age 5 years. This continued for 22 year, with four MLS seasons playing for D.C. United (Colorado Rapids), Sporting KC, and Sporting KC. In 1996, he made several appearances on the Under-20 soccer team.

His family claims that he was depressed after sustaining an ankle injury in 2001. He also had issues with his impulse control and aggression. He eventually suffered from memory impairment and developed an addiction problem.

CTE has been implicated in the above. It is a condition that can cause concussions and subconcussive injuries to athletes, veterans, or others with repeated head trauma.

“This disease destroys families, and not just football families,” said Vermillion’s father, Dave Vermillion. “We hope this will be a wake-up call to the soccer community to support former players and get them the help they need, so some good can come from this tragedy.”

The MLS Players Association called upon the league to break with the sport’s international governing bodies and adopt a rule expanding substitutions to allow for players with concussions.

“We must not sit by and wait for them to do the right thing. MLS should unilaterally adopt a full concussion substitution rule immediately,” the union said in a statement. “Current substitution rules do not give medical professionals sufficient time to properly diagnose potential concussions without putting a team at a substantial competitive disadvantage.”

Concussion Legacy Foundation called for rules to limit the use of tackle football and head in soccer among children aged over 14. Chris Nowinski, cofounder of CLF, said that repetitive headgetting by professional soccer players has been shown to be linked with dementia.

“It is time for the global soccer community to have a real conversation about heading, especially in the youth game,” Nowinski said. “We urgently need to investigate how far this crisis extends into amateur soccer and immediately put in place reforms to prevent CTE in the next generation.”

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