Kevin Ellison’s tragic death leads family to donate ex-USC safety’s brain to science

USC safety Kevin Ellison breaks up a pass to Arizona State’s Kerry Taylor in a Oct. 11, 2008 game at the Coliseum.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

The family of former USC safety Kevin Ellison will donate his brain to Boston University researchers who study repetitive head trauma in athletes and military personnel.

Ellison, 31, died last week after being hit by a car while walking along the 5 Freeway in the San Fernando Valley. The two-time All-Pac-10 selection who played briefly for the San Diego Chargers struggled with mental health issues for several years.

Chris Ellison said the family “asked that question” of whether there was a link between his brother’s mental health problems and the hard hits he delivered on the football field.


“We all played football … we know the risk that comes with it,” he said. “Does it have some impact? I’m sure it did. But I don’t know enough about the research to say for certain. I don’t blame [football].”

A paper published this year in the Annals of Neurology found the neurodegenerative disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy present in 133 of 136 brains of former professional football players studied and 211 of 246 brains of football players from all levels.

CTE can be definitively diagnosed only by examining brain tissue after death.

Ellison said a memorial service is scheduled for Oct. 27. Former USC assistant coach Rocky Seto, now a pastor in La Puente, will officiate.

Twitter: @nathanfenno