Researchers at Boston University have discovered chronic traumatic encephalopathy -- brain trauma linked to repeated blows to the head -- in the brain of deceased former soccer player Patrick Grange, according to a report from John Branch in the New York Times.
Grange died at 29 in April 2012 after being diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig's disease. But the revelation of his head trauma, a condition that has recently garnered increased publicity in contact sports like football, could prove to be an important moment: Grange is the first soccer player to be diagnosed with CTE.
Grange played soccer throughout his life, including for the Chicago Fire's Premier Development League team. He suffered several concussions over the course of his career while pursuing his goal to play in Major League Soccer. The damaged area of his brain correlates with the part of the head he would have used to head the ball, according to the report.
Soccer is a physical game but rarely a violent one. Collisions occur, either between players or a player and the ground, but the most repeated blows to the head might come from the act of heading an airborne ball — to redirect it purposely — in games and in practice.Though doctors could not say for sure whether heading the ball caused the brain trauma, the two may be linked. Heading the ball is an integral aspect of soccer, but neuroscience experts have warned that the act may leave the brain susceptible to long-term injury. The case of Grange may add to these concerns.
Grange’s parents, Mike and Michele, said Patrick, who died in April after being found to have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, was especially proud of his ability to head the ball. They recalled him as a 3-year-old, endlessly tossing a soccer ball into the air and heading it into a net, a skill that he continued to practice and display in college soccer and top-level amateur and semiprofessional leagues in his quest to play Major League Soccer.