It's the tragic story we've been hearing more and more these days: A former football player starts to exhibit odd behavior after retirement, which transforms into a full downward spiral that leads to a tragic death. An autopsy is performed, and the player is found to have CTE.
That's shorthand for chronic traumatic encephalopathy, described by Boston University's School of Medicine as a "progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in people with a history of repetitive brain trauma, including symptomatic concussions as well as subconcussive hits to the head that do not cause symptoms."
CTE was a hot topic last year. It regained steam over the holidays with the release of the movie "Concussion." It keeps popping up even if the NFL would love for it to go away. Many times after it pops up, it fades away.
But a story Tuesday by the New York Times … well, this one feels different. It's not that any of these stories should fade as we return/retreat to watching football (again), conflicted as many of us might be. But again, this one feels different.
This one involves a former Iowa standout and NFL player now dead at age 27. That's a young adult. He's Tyler Sash, and he died in September. Not only that, but the autopsy showed signs of CTE. Not only that, but this, from the New York Times story:
The CTE "had advanced to a stage rarely seen in someone his age. Dr. Ann McKee, chief of neuropathology at the V.A. Boston Healthcare System and a professor of neurology and pathology at the Boston University School of Medicine who conducted the examination, said Tuesday that the severity of the CTE in Sash's brain was about the same as the level found in the brain of the former NFL star Junior Seau, who committed suicide in 2012 at age 43."
Sash was an all-Big Ten safety for the Hawkeyes. He played in three career games against the Gophers from 2008-10, recording 18 tackles and an interception. As an NFL rookie, he was on the Giants' 2011 Super Bowl team.
Per the Times story, Sash had been playing football for 16 years and had five known concussions — the last of which, with the Giants, effectively ended his career.
The official cause of death was an accidental drug overdose — a mix of methadone and hydrocodone, the latter of which was prescribed to him to help deal with intense shoulder pain stemming from his playing days.
You can reach your own conclusions about what killed Sash, but hopefully we can all agree that this is incredibly sad.
It's not less sad to hear these stories about men twice his age, but it is more jarring to hear them about a 27-year-old.