Keck played two years of college football for Missouri before transferring to Missouri State. During his first training camp at MSU, he was knocked unconscious and retired from football. He died last year from an unrelated heart condition.
Before he died, Keck asked for his brain to be examined at Boston University. Doctors found CTE advanced to a level they had never seen in someone so young.
“When you talk in terms of his age, being young, and you talk about his limited years of playing, it is one of the more severe cases,” said Dr. Robert Cantu, a co-founder of the CTE Center at BU. “Had he lived to 70 or 80, we would have expected this to be a Grade 4 (the most severe form) case.”
Cantu said the worst cases of CTE are found in those who play for years, taking hundreds or thousands of hits to the head. It is progressive, so ex-players continue to deteriorate after they retire. But Keck didn't play all that long, and he was too young for the disease to be blamed on aging.
Keck's wife, Cassandra, said his personality changed drastically after he was injured at MSU and left the team.
“When he stopped playing, he became the bad seed,” Cassandra Keck said. “If they drank together, there ended up being holes in the wall. The next few years, people stopped coming around. People didn’t want to be around him anymore.”
The sport of football has faced increased scrutiny over its safety since CTE was first discovered in the brain of deceased former Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster in 2002. The disease has been found in the brains of multiple other ex-football players in the years since.
In the wake of those discoveries, the NFL faced a lawsuit brought by more than 4,000 former players that alleged that the league knew more about the dangers of head trauma than it let on. Earlier this summer, the two sides agreed on a revised settlement deal that offers compensation to the players.
- Paul Palladino