BOSTON ( Associated Press) – Researchers have diagnosed chronic traumatic encephalopathy in a Major League Soccer player for the first time, said Tuesday after former Sporting Kansas City defender Scott Vermillion was suffering from degenerative brain disease.
The Boston University CTE Center said Vermillion, who died of an accidental drug overdose in December 2020 at age 44, had CTE. Although it is not possible to link a single case to a single cause, the disease has been linked to repeated blows to the head.
CTE has been found in over 100 former NFL players, as well as semi-pro and high school soccer players. The first is Vermillion from MLS.
“Mr. Vermillion has shown us that football players are at risk for CTE,” said Dr. Ann Mackie, director of the BU CTE Center. “We need to do everything possible to identify the aggrieved players and provide them with compassionate care and appropriate medical aid.”
Vermillion began playing football at age 5 and continued for 22 years, culminating in four MLS seasons for DC United, Colorado Rapids and Sporting KC. He also played for the United States at the 1993 Under-17 World Championship and made some appearances for the under-20 team in 1996.
After retiring in 2001 with an ankle injury, his family said, he became depressed and had problems with impulse control and aggression. Eventually, he suffered memory loss and developed a substance abuse problem.
All are associated with CTE, which is associated with repeated head trauma or subconcussive blows in athletes, combat veterans, and others.
“The disease destroys families, not just football families,” said Vermillion’s father, Dave Vermillion. “We hope this will be a wake-up call for the football community to support former players and get them the help they need, so something good can come out of this tragedy.”
The MLS Players Association called for the league to break with the game’s international governing bodies and adopt a rule that expanded the substitutions allowed for players.
“We should not sit beside them and wait for them to do the right thing. MLS should immediately adopt a unilateral full concussion replacement rule, the union said in a statement. “Current replacement rules do not give medical professionals enough time to properly diagnose potential concussions without putting a team at a substantial competitive disadvantage.”
MLS Chief Medical Officer Margot Putukian said the league has “comprehensive policies to educate players, coaches, officials and medical staff about the importance of head injury recognition, early reporting and treatment.”
“MLS is a leader in the sport, advocating and operating the FIFA Concussion Alternatives Program, implementing a medical spotter program to identify potential head injuries and the removal from play of any player with a suspected head injury for evaluation and , as needed, for treatment.” Putukian said. “There is always more progress to be made, and MLS remains strongly committed to this important work.”
The Concussion Legacy Foundation has called for rules that would limit tackle football and access to soccer for children over the age of 14. CLF co-founder Chris Nowinsky said dementia is already linked to the title being repeated by pro soccer players in the UK.
“It’s time for the global football community to have a real conversation about the title, especially in youth sport,” Nowinsky said. “We urgently need to investigate how far this crisis has spread in amateur football and immediately implement reforms to prevent CTE in the next generation.”