Late Brazilian soccer star Bellini has been found to have had the brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy at the time of his death, according to The New York Times.
Bellini died in March at the age of 83 after suffering from what had been diagnosed as Alzheimer's. But a posthumous examination by Dr. Ann McKee revealed that the symptoms attributed to Alzheimer's were actually a result of CTE and that the initial diagnosis was incorrect.
According to McKee, Bellini is the second known case of CTE found in a soccer player.
The disease, which can lead to memory loss, emotional destabilization, erratic behavior and other issues, had mostly been found in boxers and football players. The initial discovery of it in late ex-Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster last decade spawned the NFL's concussion crisis and has led to increased research and attention on concussions and head injuries in the sport.
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McKee said that although it is too early to say whether head balls in soccer were the cause of C.T.E., it is becoming apparent that its players are at risk of long-term brain trauma.
“I think there’s been a perception that the nonhelmeted sports are somehow less likely or less prone to these kinds of diseases,” she said. “There was also a time when people said C.T.E. was only an American problem. I think we are learning that, in both cases, those things aren’t true and this is a problem that is going to be seen around the world.”
FIFA and other soccer governing bodies have been considering rule changes to help facilitate increased safety around head injures. FIFA was criticized during this summer's World Cup after several players returned to action despite sustaining head injuries.
Bellini helped lead Brazil to World Cup titles in 1958 and 1962. He's credited with being the first player to lift the World Cup trophy above his head, which he did in 1958. A statue of the player in that pose sits at the entrance of Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro.
- Ben Estes