Scott Vermillion, a former American football professor, had a CTE

Scott Vermillion’s family members are still struggling to articulate the emotions they experienced last November when they received a phone call from doctors.

Vermillion, a former MLS player, died almost a year earlier, on Christmas Day 2020, at the age of 44. The direct cause was severe alcohol and prescription drug poisoning, his family said. And an all-American college student who played four seasons in MLS, Vermilion spent the last decade of his life escaping from his family as he battled substance abuse and gradual unstable behavior.

Late last year, doctors at Boston University offered another explanation: After examining Vermilion’s brain, BU experts told his family that he had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a degenerative brain disease associated with symptoms such as memory loss, depression and aggressive behavior. .

The diagnosis made a serious difference to Vermilion that he was the first American professional footballer to make a public case at CTE. It was also a ceremonial stage for MLS, a league that has seen this type of outcome even in its young history. Brain injuries are more commonly associated with collision sports such as football, boxing and hockey.

“Football is clearly a risk to CTE – not as much as football, but it is clearly a risk,” said Dr. Ann McKee, director of the CTE Center at Boston University.

Neuropathologist McKee has found the disease in hundreds of athletes, including vermilion.

For the Vermilion family, the diagnosis brought a sense of clarity, albeit a small, question-filled life. She did not answer everything – she just could not, given that a CTE diagnosis can only be made after childbirth. This led to feelings of suspicion, guilt, anger, relief. But it was, after all, something.

The ghost of CTE started spinning in the NFL almost two decades ago when the first cases of the disease were recorded in the brains of former professional players. Since then, CTE, which has been linked to a back-and-forth kick, has been found in the brains of more than 300 former NFL players.

However, in football, research and public talk about CTE and head injuries are still emerging, despite the growing number of confirmed cases. English striker. Winner of the World Cup in Brazil. American lover.

Former MLS players Aleko Eskandarian and Taylor Tvelman talked about how a concussion ended their careers and affected their personal lives. Brandi Chastain, a two-time winner of the Women’s World Cup, publicly promised in 2016 that she would donate her brain for CTE research.

“We have to understand the gravity of the situation,” Chastain said. “Talking about concussions in football is not just a hot topic. This is the real thing. It needs real attention. “

Last year, leagues and tournaments around the world, including MLS, began experimenting with so-called concussion substitutes, giving teams additional substitutions to deal with players with potential brain injuries. MLS has joined some other sports leagues in introducing various protocols, including the use of independent specialists and examiners to assess possible concussions during games.

“MLS has a comprehensive policy to educate players, coaches, officials and medical staff about the importance of identifying their injury, early reporting and treatment,” Dr. Margo Putukian, the league’s chief medical officer, said in a statement. “There is always more to be done and MLS is firmly committed to this important cause.”

The focus, however, is not just on treating concussions. With increasing efforts to avoid all sorts of impacts on the heads, players at all levels are seeing more guidance aimed at limiting titles.

A 2019 study by researchers in Glasgow found that former professional football players were three and a half times more likely to die of neurodegenerative disease than members of the general population (and less likely to die of heart disease and some cancers). So the story of Vermillion becomes the latest in a series of warning tales.

“CTE has never crossed our minds,” said Kami Jones, who was married to Vermillion from 1999 to 2004.

Vermilion started playing football in Olate, Cannes, when he was 5 years old. Family members said he loved the game’s continuous movements, swabbing. His coaches in elementary school, in the interests of sports, often stayed on the bench for a long time because he scored too many goals, said his father, David Vermillion.

His talent eventually earned him a place in elite regional club teams and U.S. youth teams as a teenager. He was taken to the University of Virginia, where he was the third team of all American juniors. He transferred it to MLS, where in 1998 at the age of 21 he joined a local club, the Kansas City Wizard, now known as Sporting Kansas City.

But Vermilion, a rude guardian, never thrived as a professional. He moved to two other clubs before a painful ankle injury forced him to retire early after the 2001 season. His career income in the new league was meager; The father recalled that his son’s salary was about $ 40,000 a year when he left the game.

“It was a big blow,” said David Vermillion. He spent his whole life climbing this hill, climbing, behaving like a good player, and it was hard to end it suddenly.

Scott Vermilion was trying to find some basis in his life after football. He ran a family shop. He coached local youth teams. She passed the degree of nurse. But his relationship was slowly falling apart.

Although Vermilion’s behavior was the most disturbing in the decade leading up to his death, Jones said he noticed changes in him even before his career ended: he was often lethargic, which was strange to him as a professional athlete, and he often complained of headaches.

“When I met Scott, he was an energetic, charming professional athlete, super funny, jokingly,” said Jones, who broke up with Vermillion in 2004, three years after his career ended when their children were 1 and 3 years old. “I was watching him. It was changing really fast and it was awful. ”

For the next decade, Vermilion continued to leave the family. Family members said his drinking had become extreme and his behavior more irregular. He remarried, but this union lasted only one year. He was arrested in 2018, charged with aggravated household battery after an incident with his girlfriend. He walked in and out of alcohol and prescription drug rehab programs, only to be reprimanded for telling his family that the programs were not helping him, that he could not help.

His daughter, Ava-Grace, was accustomed to skipping a dance recital. His son, Braden, now 22, was devastated when he missed school.

“He promised a lot of things and mostly just justified it and did not reveal it to us,” said 20-year-old Ava-Gray Vermillion.

Dr. Stephanie Alessi-LaRosa, Sports Neurologist in Hartford, Con. He said research on the subject was still in its early stages and that doctors were still trying to understand why some athletes received CTE while others did not.

“I have patients who hesitate to seek psychiatric treatment because they think they have CTE and are doomed,” he said. “I think it is important for patients to get the help they need, and if their family is concerned, consult a sports neurologist.”

Alessi-Larosa said he thinks the benefits of the sport outweigh the risks, but echoes the increasingly widespread view that movement in football should be restricted to young players.

In 2015, U.S. Football – a lawsuit settlement – announced a ban on games and practice by players under the age of 10 and created guidelines for older players on practice restrictions. Last year, English football officials published guidelines at the head, where professional players were advised to train during the so-called. Limit “high power head” to 10 a week. (How exactly this should be done is less clear.)

Vermillion’s mother, Phil Lamers, contacted a Boston lab for a brain examination after her son died. CTE has four stages, the last stage being associated with dementia; It turned out that Scott Vermilion had CTE 2 stage

His family said they hoped to find out about his story, no matter how painful his resuscitation, would help inform families about the hidden dangers of football. They said they regretted how difficult it was for him, how they cut him off in moments when his behavior was very difficult. They were worried about whether they could do more.

Ava-Gray Vermilion recalled writing a letter to her father on December 23, 2020, her 44th birthday. She hadn’t seen him in almost a year, he said, and when he was preparing to go to college in California to study dance, he said he had to break the ice.

“I remember that day exactly,” he said. “I was at work and I thought it was time to contact him. I have not spoken to him in a long time. I texted him, “I hope you are well.” He called me and I could not answer. And died two days later. ”

Ken Belson Contributed to the report.

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