Former Buc has brain damage from concussions

01/28/09 Mitch E. Perry
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In Tampa yesterday, medical researchers said that former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Tom McHale’s death last year at the age of 45 may be connected to concussions received during his playing days – making him the sixth deceased former NFL player 50 or younger to have such brain damage.

Doctors at Boston University’s School of Medicine found a condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in McHale’s brain.

The Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy studied six former NFL players ranging in ages from 38 to 50. One such player in the study is former Philadelphia Eagle defensive back and USF assistant coach Andre Waters, who shot and killed himself in North Tampa in 2006.

Chris Nowitski is the founder of the Sports Legacy Institute, based in Massachusetts. He said his group is studying the youngest case yet – an unnamed 18 year old multisport athlete who had concussions playing football.

Nowitski is the catalyst for this increased focus on the nature of concussions in professional football. The 30-year-old starred at Harvard as a defensive tackle before becoming a professional wrestler. His career ended after a severe blow to the head.

He later wrote a book on the issue, called, Head Games: Football’s Concussion Crises.

Dr. Ann McKee is an associate professor of Neurology and Pathology at the Boston University of Medicine. She said CTE was first discovered in the 1920s, and is most closely associated with boxing. She characterized CTE as the buildup of an abnormal protein called tau that accumulate inside the nerve cells of the brain and blocks their normal functioning.

Dr. McKee says the repetitive trauma that triggers the disease begins in the athletes brains she has studied in their youth. She says after they retire, usually in their late 20s or 30s, they are no longer susceptible, and so they’re thinking clearly at that time. But later it becomes a major problem.

Dr. Robert Stern is Associate Professor of Neurology at Boston University School of Medicine, and co –director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Program. He said that contrary to some reports, CTE is not the same as Alzheimer’s disease. McKee also is quick to refute any claims that the onset of CTE is simply a part of the aging process.

Former Tampa Bay Buc Tom McHale played in the National Football League from 1987 to 1995, and had a successful second career as an entrepreneur. He owned a McHale Chop house restaurant in South Tampa, and later a second one in Brandon; and he owned Mac’s Sports pub in South Tampa as well.

His cause of death last May was ruled an accidental drug overdose.

His widow, Lisa McHale said her husband was suffering from addiction prior to his death, she will never know whether the changes she was seeing in him was because of the CTE developing in his brain.

A spokesman for the National Football League says the league looks forward to reading the new report. The league is conducting its own study of retired players, which began in 2007 and may not be published for two more years.

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