Nobody saw it coming when the news of Kenny McKinley’s apparent suicide hit the news on September 21, 2010. His friends didn’t see it, his Denver Broncos teammates didn’t see, nor did anyone at his alma mater when he visited the South Carolina campus earlier this month. McKinley was drafted by the Denver Broncos in 2009. He went down with a knee injury at the end of the 2009 season and then reinjured himself at the start of this season’s training camp. He was 23 years old.
McKinley has yet to be linked to depression, but we certainly have to wonder if he was. Football players are supposed to be strong and tough; play the game no matter what it takes. They are paid millions of dollars to perform for the public and generate cash for the league and owners. We all forget they are people who can suffer from mental illness just like the rest of us, whether it’s from the many blows they suffer to the head or hereditary factors.
My friend’s son just started playing freshman football at his high school this year. Within his first week of practice, he has already suffered his first concussion. Will this happy kid battle depression later on in life if he experiences any more blows to his head?
Studies show that repeated blows to the head resulting in concussions can result in a higher risk of depression in people, and the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (CSTE) at Boston University’s School of Medicine is producing unimaginable findings in their studies on concussions. No longer an invisible injury, the CSTE is finding tremendous brain damage in the brains of football players which has been named chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). CTE affects the part of the brain that controls a person’s emotions, rage, hypersexuality, and even breathing. Its effects often result in poor decision making, memory loss, substance abuse, erratic behavior, depression and suicide.
CTE identified in many football players
Ted Johnson, former linebacker for the New England Patriots claims to have suffered more than 100 concussions in his lifetime. Today, he is plagued by feelings of anger and depression along with migraine headaches.
Chris Henry, the former wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals, was discovered to have CTE when a study was performed on his brain after suffering a tragic accident. Henry exhibited numerous behavior problems during his short career in the NFL. Constantly fined and suspended for his erratic behavior, CTE offers an explanation as to why.
Andre Waters, a former defensive back for the Philadelphia Eagles, committed suicide in 2006 at the age of 43. An autopsy later revealed that his suffered from CTE.
Owen Thomas, the 21-year-old college football player who committed suicide in April of this year was also found to have suffered from CTE. Thomas is another case in which family and friends never suspected anything wrong, and was described as a very likeable and pleasant person.
It will be interesting to see if Kenny McKinley turns out to be the latest victim of CTE, or did he suffer silently with an inherited mental illness. Mental illness is a tough battle and one the NFL should think about joining.
CNN Health: College football player who committed suicide had brain injury
CNN Health: Dead athletes’ brains show damage from concussions