Cullen Finnerty, the former college quarterback who died in May at the age of 30, has been found to have the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.
The New York Times reports that Finnerty’s brain was studied at the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at Boston University, and he was found to have CTE. That’s the same brain disease that has been diagnosed through autopsies of several former NFL players, most notably Dave Duerson and Junior Seau, both of whom committed suicide with gunshots to the chest.
The diagnosis of CTE in a player who never played at the professional level raises a question: Did all of the former NFL players whose brains have shown signs of CTE actually have the disease before they ever got to the NFL because of hits to the head suffered in college, high school or youth football?
Much more research needs to be done before we know exactly what causes CTE, how it affects those who have it and how it can be prevented. Some doctors say there’s no proof at all that repeated impacts cause CTE. The disease can only be definitively diagnosed via autopsy.
Finnerty led Grand Valley State to three NCAA Division II national championships. He was briefly on the rosters of the Ravens and Broncos but never played in an NFL game. Finnerty was found dead in the Michigan woods after he went missing in May. The autopsy listed pneumonia as the cause of death, and said the pneumonia was exacerbated by use of oxycodone and by CTE.