Karl Holmes Jr.

KARL HOLMES JR., 22, wide receiver with Arizona State, 2011-12, and Grand Valley State, 2015, has retired from football because of multiple concussions, persistent post-concussion symptoms, and fear of contracting CTE.  “The doctor said I was at risk of developing a brain disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy.”  It was all just part of the game, or so Holmes thought, until he started developing severe headaches after returning home to Pasadena for summer break in May.  Then came the memory loss and it was obvious something was really wrong.  There was the shot he took during a hitting drill just before his senior year at Muir HS (CA).  There was the time he got rocked during an Arizona State practice by his then-teammate Vontaze Burfict, now in the NFL with the Cincinnati Bengals.  There was the car accident.  And then there was the last one, which came this past spring at Grand Valley State.  Holmes doesn’t remember it at all.  “I noticed for a certain period of time that I remembered people asking me to do things, but at the time I just couldn’t remember what they asked.  I would go back three or four days later and sit back like, ‘He really did ask me that.’  I told my mom that I thought I was starting to forget things.”  Headaches, some lasting as long as four days, eventually sent Holmes to the emergency room.  That’s when the process of having advance brain tests began.  Football was always his beacon of hope.  His father, Karl Holmes Sr., is on death row for his role in the infamous 1993 Halloween murders of three young Pasadena boys in a gang retaliation shooting.  Holmes isn’t bitter his career is over, several years short of what he had hoped.  He holds no grudges against the sport and wants to continue to be a part of it by coaching after he finishes college.  “Football just gave me a vision to see something I probably wouldn’t have seen.  I’ve met a lot of people.  I’ve networked.  I’ve been a lot of places because of football.  Football has allowed me to go to college.  It was a way of repaying my family.  Football has taught to me to be humble at all times because any time could be your last snap.  I had no idea, no clue to even think that my last snap would be coming any time soon.  Unfortunately, I’m not able to keep playing, but I want to go on and coach.  I want to give something back to the game. Football is the greatest sport on the planet.”–“Concussions ended Karl Holmes Jr.’s football career at 22″, PasadenaStarNews.com 8/15/15, Aram Tolegian.

Pete Duranko

PETE DURANKO, 67, defensive end with Denver, 1967-74, died on 7/8/11 after suffering from ALS (diagnosed in 1999) & dementia (diagnosed in 2010), and was found to have CTE.  He was trached and on oxygen and a ventilator for his last 5 years.  His wife, Janet Duranko, fought the NFL for years to get Pete on the NFL’s “88 Plan” for the last year of his life.  “I am thankful,” said his wife. “At least I’m praying that with the settlement all the retired players with ALS, dementia and declining health won’t have to go through  what Pete and I did, medical expenses, financial hardship and refusals for help from the NFL.  My sons and I watched him die for twelve years.”–Janet Duranko on Dave Pear’s Blog, 2/21/14.  (Pear was Duranko’s camp roommate in Duranko’s last season.) 

Morris Trent Phipps

MORRIS TRENT PHIPPS, 61, nose guard with Baylor, 1965-70, died on 10/9/09 after suffering from serious depression, Early Onset Alzheimer’s disease, and at death was found to have CTE, the effects of which began to show in 1997.  The coaches thought he was too small but his tenacity, quickness, and strength always earned him his starting position.  The first in his family ever to attend and graduate from college, Phipps was married with 2 sons and worked as a teacher, coach and principal.  Trent’s family misses him greatly and wants people to know the devastation of this disease and asks you to support, in whatever fashion, the research that may some day prevent others from suffering the effects of CTE.–“Morris Trent Phipps Legacy Donor Page”, Sports Legacy Institute.  Memorial by his wife Donna and sons Brett and Garrett.

Mike Jenkins

MIKE JENKINS, 45, tight end with Warren Central HS (IN), 1981-83, suffered multiple concussions, committed suicide on 5/5/11 and was found to have CTE.  Originally a quarterback who began playing football when he was 7, his nickname was “Crash”.  He also played baseball, basketball, swam, and raced motor bikes, always going all out.  He was an ultra-dedicated, loving husband and father to 2 sons, a coach and mentor.  Extremely generous, Jenkins would help anyone in need, and, using CPR, once saved the life of a man who had a heart attack at a NASCAR race.  He also helped the family of a neighbor who was diagnosed with cancer.  Jenkins began to have angry outbursts, became combative at work, struggled with alcoholism, and hated himself for being unable to stop drinking.  His last concussion was in February 2011, caused by slipping on ice.  He was sick with post-concussion symptoms, sometimes had a blank look in his eyes, began to miss his sons’ games, and there was a weekend when he did not get out of bed.  He once spaced out driving his semi and a coworker had to grab the steering wheel to prevent the truck from crossing the center line.  After having dinner together on Easter Sunday 2011, Jenkins couldn’t remember how to get back to his brother’s house, which was located in the neighborhood where they’d grown up.  It was the last day his brother, Rick, saw Mike alive.–“Mike Jenkins Legacy Donor Page”, Sports Legacy Institute.  Memorials from the Jenkins family: mother Marcia, wife Kim, brother Rick, and sons Nick and Kyle.

Rob Lytle

ROB LYTLE, 56, running back with Denver, 1977-83, died of a massive heart attack in 2010 after having suffered a stroke in 2009, and was found to have moderate to severe CTE.  Involved in one of the most famous plays in Broncos history, against the Oakland Raiders in the 1978 AFC championship game, he revealed in an April 2007 interview that he had suffered a concussion against the Pittsburgh Steelers the previous week. He said he briefly blacked out when Raiders safety Jack Tatum hit him on his carry from the Oakland 2-yard line.  Lytle lost control of the ball and the Raiders recovered, but officials ruled his forward motion was stopped before the fumble, and Denver scored on the next play, winning 20-17 to advance to their first Super Bowl.  “Honest to God, I don’t even remember the play,” Lytle said, laughing in 2007. “I told you what happened the week before. So I must have had a bad concussion. I had headaches and stuff, but those were the days that you didn’t … well, it was a different era. I went over the top and Tatum hit me. I can’t tell you (anything) other than what I see on film, because I was out.”  Lytle’s son, Kelly, said, “(Doctors) said to us, ‘Your dad must have been a hyper-intelligent individual.’  They said the reason for that was because of what we told them and the fact that he still was able to hold down a day-to-day job without any negative reports from it.  He had been able to mask it.  They were shocked that with as far along as the CTE was, that he was more or less able to compensate and mask it with the normalcy of his day-to-day life.”  Lytle was working as a bank executive when he died.  Kelly has written a book, “To Dad, From Kelly” about their relationship. Lytle’s widow, Tracy, is part of the class-action lawsuit against the NFL.  Tracy, Kelly and the Lytles’ daughter, Erin Tober, are on the family advisory board of SLI, Sports Legacy Institute, which, in conjunction with Boston University, examines brains for CTE. “He understood that football was such a violent game and that by playing it he was putting his body and his mind and everything at risk,” Kelly said. “For him that was kind of the acceptable collateral damage because he loved the game so much that he wanted to be part of it.”–“CTE “warning signs” existed before former Broncos RB Rob Lytle’s death in 2010″, DenverPost.com 5/26/15, Terry Frei.

George Montgomery

GEORGE MONTGOMERY, 43, running back with Arizona State, 1989-93, committed suicide by shooting himself at the end of July 2014 and was found to have CTE.  He had also been in the Philadelphia Eagles organization and played a couple years in Europe.  His mother, Denese, contends that Montgomery did not commit suicide: “My child wouldn’t kill himself.”  On 7/31/14 hikers found his body floating face down in Beaver Creek in Yavapai County (AZ), whose medical examiner determined from an autopsy that Montgomery shot himself 3 times and sustained 4 wounds, 2 shots entering the heart.  Investigators found a .380-caliber semiautomatic handgun in the water, according to the police report.  It had one hollow-point round in the chamber, but the five-round magazine was empty.  Authorities tracked the gun to San Diego, where it had been reported stolen in 2011.  A representative from the Arizona Attorney General’s Office told sheriff’s deputies that Montgomery had been investigated before and was the “main target” in a criminal case that had sprung from a $3 million Ponzi scheme.–“Mother seeks answers in son’s mysterious death”, The Arizona Republic 5/26/15, Matthew Casey.  From USAtoday.com.

Patrick Risha

PATRICK RISHA, 32, running back with Dartmouth, 2006 grad, committed suicide by hanging on 9/17/14 and was found to have CTE.  A product of the Monongahela Valley and son of a football coach, Pat, who’d played with the Washington Redskins, Patrick started playing Mon Valley Midget football when he was 10.  Known as “The Horse,” he was an All-District selection and Daily News MVP in high school.  His mother, Karen Kinzle Zegel, said his entire body was “like a piece of meat” as a result of all the practices and games, and he once came off the field with no memory of 2 touchdowns he’d scored.  He had occasional fits of rage over nothing and once swallowed a bottle of Tylenol after being grounded for drinking.  His teammate at Dartmouth, Rich Walton, said of Risha, “A pounding running back.  He just loved the contact.”  He had an up-and-down college career, which included a back injury that introduced him to painkillers.  He went from gregarious to reclusive, had trouble with schoolwork, and took Adderall for attention deficit disorder, but no dosage could lock in his focus.  Returning to Mon Valley, Risha was unable to carry himself, gambled online, overspent, had fits of anger, couldn’t handle simple business, accumulated 6 months of unopened mail, and, when he heard his sister hadn’t received her prepaid wedding video, broke into the videographer’s home with a sledgehammer to get it.  His father died and his girlfriend gave birth to their son in October 2010.  Risha was on the phone with his mother just before committing suicide. She has begun a website, www.StopCTE.org.

–“A Son of Football Calls His Mother”, NY Times 4/26/15, Dan Barry.  [I learned of this story from Dave Pear’s Blog.]

Mosi Tatupu

MOSI TATUPU, 54, running back and special teamer with New England and the LA Rams, 1978-91, died of a heart attack in 2010 and was found to have CTE in October 2014, a day after his family learned he’d been elected to the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame. Tatupu left a family dinner at a restaurant after his first home game with New England and was found vomiting profusely in the parking lot by his wife, Linnea Garcia-Tatupu. Her father, a former boxer while in the marines, knew that Tatupu had suffered a concussion. The fan favorite from American Samoa underwent distinct behavior changes in his early 30s, growing aloof and forgetful, frequently misplacing things, and drinking heavily. His metamorphosis caused his 20-year marriage to unravel. In CTE the abnormal buildup of tau protein prevents the brain’s nerve cells from making normal connections with each other, eventually killing them. The buildup causes erratic behavior, memory loss, depression, and ultimately dementia. Tatupu’s son, Lofa, 32, played 6 seasons with the Seattle Seahawks and wants his 2 sons, one nearly 4 years old, and the other 6 months, to eventually follow in the family footsteps, which terrifies Linnea. “I’m not going to lie: I loved football up until I became involved with somebody who played the game. I am not going to recommend any sport where you can’t protect the very thing that is meant to keep you alive. If your brain doesn’t work, there is precious little else that will.”—“Years of battering took toll on 1980s Patriots star Mosi Tatupu”, BostonGlobe.com 1/27/15, Kay Lazar.

Nathan Stiles

NATHAN STILES, 17, senior running back with Spring Hill HS (KS), died from a re-bleed of an undetected subdural hematoma on 10/29/10 after collapsing on the field.  The coroner said the initial injury most likely occurred in a game several weeks earlier, which would make the death a case of second-impact syndrome, where the brain sustains a second concussion or injury before the first one has fully healed.  His father, Ron, said his son wouldn’t have returned to the field had the family known the initial concussion wasn’t yet healed.  A CT scan at the time revealed nothing, so he played in a game only 3 weeks later—with a doctor’s permission.  Boston University later determined that Stiles had the youngest reported case of CTE.  He scored 2 touchdowns in his final game.—“After a concussion it’s unclear when—or if—high school athletes should return to action”, LebanonDemocrat.com 10/24/14, Sam McDowell, The Kansas City Star.

Damaged But Left Out

Boston University researcher Robert Stern said that many of the 76 deceased NFL players found to have CTE would not have qualified for awards under the $765 million concussion settlement had they lived, because some never developed dementia, Alzheimer’s and other neurological problems covered.  Retirees who exhibit mood swings, aggression, depression or other aberrant behavior, which can be indicators of CTE, would not be compensated.—“Concussions”, Chronicle News Services 10/9/14.