How CTE changes everything about football

Kevin Ellison wasn’t the biggest or strongest football player at USC. But he was the ideal from 2005 through 2008 — he had the smarts to earn an economics degree, the toughness to overcome three knee surgeries, the legendary work ethic and, of course, the ferocious hits.

He played 13 games for the NFL’s San Diego Chargers in 2009. The Chargers cut him after one season, his career faltered and the problems emerged in 2012 when he set his apartment on fire, claiming “God told me to do it.” He cycled through jobs. He went on and off medication for bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. He lived in an apartment behind his mother’s home in Inglewood.

Late one night in October 2018, a car hit and killed Ellison as he walked along the 5 Freeway in the San Fernando Valley.

CTE is a devastating neurodegenerative disease researchers believe is found in the brains of people who have experienced repeated head trauma. They could be victims of domestic violence, members of the military or football players. The disease can only be definitively diagnosed after death. Researchers have found the disease in scores of deceased players. Many of the names are familiar: Junior Seau, Dwight Clark, Frank Gifford. Ellison’s family wanted to help find answers. A few days after his death, they decided to donate his brain to be studied by researchers in Boston.