CTE Finds Its Way Into Another Pro Sport

Scott Vermillion, who died in 2020, is first Major League Soccer player to be diagnosed
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 29, 2022 10:30 AM CDT
Major League Soccer Has Its First CTE Case
Miami Fusion's Tyrone Marshall (15) assists Scott Vermillion of the Kansas City Wizards after the two collided while going up for a header in the first half of a soccer match on Aug. 29, 1999, in Kansas City, Mo.   (AP Photo/Ed Zurga, File)

It's long been known that football players are at risk for chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. Now, another sport—one in which the head is often used during game play—is making headlines in connection with the degenerative brain condition. Researchers from Boston University's CTE Center say Scott Vermillion, a pro soccer player once on the Kansas City Wizards, Colorado Rapids, and DC United, had CTE. He is the first Major League Soccer player to receive that diagnosis, reports the New York Times. The paper details Vermillion's substance abuse and increasingly erratic; he died of an accidental drug overdose in late 2020 at the age of 44, after his four seasons in the league in the late '90s and early 2000s.

"I watched him change really rapidly, and it was scary," says former wife Cami Jones, describing the lethargy and headaches he started suffering even before he stopped playing. From there, family members say, he started drinking more and abusing prescription drugs, spiraling to the point where he missed his daughter's dance recitals and even his son Braeden's high school graduation. "He would promise a lot of things and basically just make excuses and not show up for us," his daughter, Ava-Grace, now 20, says. Boston researchers made the diagnosis of stage 2 CTE—there are four stages of the disease, the final one typically manifesting as dementia—after Vermillion's mother reached out to have his brain examined after his death.

Previously, high school and semi-pro soccer players have been diagnosed with CTE, per the AP, as have football and hockey players and boxers. Amateur soccer player Patrick Grange, who died at age 29, was the sport's first CTE diagnosis in 2014, notes Yahoo Sports. Vermillion's case, however, marks the first time such a diagnosis has been officially made for a professional player in the US. The MLS Players Association is now calling for an improvement to substitution rules for players who suffer potential concussions during matches, while the Concussion Legacy Foundation is pushing to ban heading for kids 14 and under. "We hope this will be a wake-up call to the soccer community to support former players and get them the help they need," Vermillion's father, Dave Vermillion, tells the AP. (Another group reported to be prone to CTE: survivors of domestic abuse.)

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