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‘Clearest evidence yet that children are getting CTE through sport’

Diagnosis of 18-year-old American football player with Stage 2 CTE adds further to calls for head impacts to be banned in early-age sport



The first case of stage two Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) has been diagnosed in a teenage American Football player, further demonstrating the risks of repeated head impacts from a young age. 

The parents of Wyatt Bramwell, who died in July 2019 aged only 18, have gone public with their son’s diagnosis of CTE on postmortem. 

It marks the first case of stage 2 CTE in a teenager, and adds further to calls for head impacts to be limited or banned altogether in children’s sport. 

“It takes years for CTE to progress from stage 1 to stage 2, so to find stage 2 CTE in an 18-year-old is the clearest evidence yet that we are giving children CTE in sports,” said Dr Ann McKee, chief of neuropathology for the VA Boston Healthcare System and director of the Boston University CTE Center and UNITE Brain Bank. 

“I hope this inspires further CTE prevention efforts, including adoption of CTE prevention protocols in sports.”

Research clearly links Wyatt’s CTE to his background in playing contact football from age eight to age 18, including four years of high school in which he played both wide receiver and cornerback. 

Evidence has irrefutably linked the onset of CTE with the number and strength of head impacts athletes received over their career.

Its early onset was also demonstrated through a study of 152 young athletes exposed to repetitive head impacts aged under age 30 at the time of death – 41.4 per cent of whom had neuropathological evidence of CTE. 

“For an 18-year-old to have the same stage of CTE as Junior Seau, who played 20 seasons in the NFL, is disturbing, but not surprising,” said Dr Chris Nowinski, Concussion Legacy Foundation CEO. 

“Kids are bigger, faster, and stronger than ever, and I don’t understand why we still have nearly 1 million boys playing tackle football before high school knowing some will develop CTE like Wyatt Bramwell. At that age, we should only allow flag football.”

Before his death, Wyatt, from Missouri in the United States, asked his parents to donate his brain for research, saying: “I took a lot of hits through football. I took a lot of concussions, and a lot of times I never told anybody about how I was feeling in my head after a hit.”

“We were completely shocked to learn that Wyatt had CTE,” said Christie Bramwell, Wyatt’s mother. 

“We hope sharing his story serves as a cautionary tale to all football parents and educates them on the risks of playing the sport. If it could happen to our son, it could happen to anyone.”

“By going public with Wyatt’s diagnosis, we hope other families think twice about allowing their young children to play tackle football,” said Bill Bramwell, Wyatt’s father. 

“Knowing what I know now, I would have encouraged Wyatt to play flag football for much longer.”

Wyatt hid his symptoms from family members and only started showing noticeable changes in the last two months of his life. 

In a video he recorded before he took his own life, he confessed to struggling with depression, racing thoughts, paranoia and difficulty thinking straight saying, “my life for the past four years has been a living hell inside of my head.”

However, it is unclear if Wyatt’s symptoms were caused by his stage 2 CTE, his multiple concussions, or had other causes.