Advertisement
Sports

The Sports Report: Kevin Ellison was a hard hitter at USC. Did that lead to bizarre behavior before he died?

Kevin Ellison’s Final Journey
Dr. Victor Alvarez and Dr. Ann McKee examine damaged areas within the brain of a football player suspected to have suffered from CTE.
(Josh Reynolds / For the Times)

Howdy, I’m your host, Houston Mitchell. Let’s get right to the news.

FOOTBALL

Sports reporter Nathan Fenno has an incredible story on former USC football star Kevin Ellison. You can read the whole story by clicking here. If you don’t believe me, here’s an excerpt that should lead you to read the whole thing:

The brains arrive at all hours in white cardboard boxes stamped “RUSH!” Inside each package is an inch-and-a-half-thick foam liner and a red bag protecting an ordinary white plastic bucket.

Advertisement

When a courier service delivered Kevin Ellison’s brain to the Bedford VA Medical Center near Boston just after 2 p.m. on Jan. 22, Dr. Victor Alvarez performed the routine he has done so many times that he’s stopped counting.

The neuropathologist unpacked the box, weighed the brain and examined it for contusions or hemorrhages. He snapped dozens of pictures with various exposures to capture differences in shape and color not apparent to the naked eye.

Alvarez processes most of the brains donated to the partnership between the Department of Veterans Affairs, Boston University CTE Center and the Concussion Legacy Foundation. He moves with care and speed, knowing each brain represents a family searching for answers.

Ellison’s family donated his brain to be studied for CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the devastating neurodegenerative disease found in people who have suffered repeated head trauma but can be diagnosed only after death. Football players are its most prominent victims.

Advertisement

It had been three months since Ellison died at age 31 — and nearly a decade since his days on the football field as a hard-hitting defensive back, team captain and fan favorite at USC. He went on to play one season for the San Diego Chargers. The three words tattooed on his left arm summed up his approach to life: “Be the best.”

Ellison had been living in an apartment behind his mother’s home in Inglewood. He had earned an economics degree in college, but at the end he no longer drove and struggled to keep jobs. He had a headache that never really left. His neck hurt and he felt dizzy. He couldn’t sleep, heard voices, talked to the sky.

Sometimes the old Kevin returned, his mother recalled. But she could tell when the darkness approached. His grin faded. His eyes wandered. He took long showers to escape, the sound drifting into the living room....

To read the rest, click here.

Read more

Dylan Hernandez: So long as football thrives, the Kevin Ellisons will pay the toll

Video: How CTE changes everything about football

LAKERS

Advertisement

The Lakers beat the Nuggets, 105-96, improving to 18-3 this season, bouncing back from a loss to the Dallas Mavericks.

Against the second best team in the Western Conference, a bruising defensive powerhouse that entered the night tied for the best defensive rating in the NBA, the Lakers scored 60 first half points and did enough the rest of the game to secure the win.

LeBron James scored 23 points and Anthony Davis scored 25. Rajon Rondo and Dwight Howard also scored in double figures. The Nuggets were led by guard Jamal Murray, who scored 22 points.

Read more

Dwight Howard’s a force in new role with Lakers

CLIPPERS

Chastened after a porous first half, the Clippers closed off Portland’s driving lanes to the rim, took away good three-point looks and didn’t allow Carmelo Anthony to add to his charmed beginning with the Trail Blazers over the course of the final 24 minutes en route to a 117-97 victory.

“Just imposed our will on the defensive end,” said forward Montrezl Harrell, whose campaign for the NBA’s top reserve continued after 26 points and nine rebounds, with no turnovers, in 30 minutes.

Advertisement

In their last game at Staples Center before beginning a six-game trip, the Clippers (16-6) improved to 13-1 at home. Paul George scored 25 points and Patrick Patterson scored 19 off the bench, with George making six three-pointers and Patterson making five.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF RANKINGS

1. Ohio State

2. Louisiana State

3. Clemson

4. Georgia

5. Utah

6. Oklahoma

7. Baylor

8. Wisconsin

9. Florida

10. Penn State

11. Auburn

12. Alabama

13. Oregon

14. Michigan

15. Notre Dame

16. Iowa

17. Memphis

18. Minnesota

19. Boise State

20. Cincinnati

21. Appalachian State

22. USC

23. Virginia

24. Navy

25. Oklahoma State

If the season ended today, these would be the projected New Year’s six bowl games:

Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Ariz. (Playoff semifinal Dec. 28)

No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 4 Georgia

Peach Bowl in Atlanta (Playoff semifinal Dec. 28)

No. 2 Louisiana State vs. No. 3 Clemson

Cotton Bowl in Arlington, Texas (Dec. 28)

No. 7 Baylor vs. No. 17 Memphis

Orange Bowl in Miami Gardens, Fla. (Dec. 30)

No. 10 Penn State vs. No. 23 Virginia

Rose Bowl in Pasadena (Jan. 1)

No. 5 Utah vs. No. 8 Wisconsin

Sugar Bowl in New Orleans (Jan. 1)

No. 6 Oklahoma vs. No. 9 Florida

The final rankings will be released Sunday.

RAMS

The Rams put kick returner JoJo Natson on injured reserve because of a hamstring injury. Natson, 25, has averaged 22.2 yards per kickoff return, and 7.8 yards per punt return.

Rookie running back Darrell Henderson is expected to replace Natson for kickoff returns on Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks at the Coliseum. Rookie Nsimba Webster is expected to replace Natson for punt returns.

KINGS

Kings coach Todd McLellan made sure to be clear on two points Tuesday afternoon, during a discussion with media members about the state of coaching in the NHL amid a recent wave of player abuse and mistreatment allegations that has swept across the league.

“I think the line between right and wrong is pretty clear,” McLellan said, before adding: “I think players and coaches, 99.9% of the time, do a real good job of not crossing the line.”

Several serious instances when coaches have erred, however, have made their way to the forefront in the past couple of weeks, setting into motion an existential debate within the sport about what is acceptable, and what is not.

“The best analogy I can use is, my elementary school experience was completely different than the elementary school experience that my kids went through,” McLellan continued. “No one stands in the corner anymore. No one puts their heads on their desks. Ears aren’t pulled. You don’t go to the principal’s office to see or get the strap.

“Society has changed. The coaches that I had growing up did a tremendous job for me as an individual. Hockey and life. I’m appreciative of them. The soft side, but the hard side as well. They helped me by being hard on me sometimes. I hold no ill will to any coaches that were direct with me or pushed me — not physically — but pushed me to become a better player. Challenged me.”

Read more

Luc Robitaille makes the rounds to ensure Kings stay relevant in L.A.

DODGERS

Dodgers officials recently met with pitcher Stephen Strasburg and third baseman Anthony Rendon, two of the top free agents on the market.

Both players are clients of Scott Boras and have spent their entire careers with the Washington Nationals, the team that knocked the Dodgers out of the National League Division Series in October en route to winning the World Series.

The Dodgers have not landed a marquee free agent beyond re-signing Justin Turner and Kenley Jansen since Andrew Friedman was hired to head the front office five years ago. The Dodgers have made offers to prominent players, only to be outbid by other teams. Just last winter they met with Bryce Harper and presented the outfielder a rich, short-term deal. He elected to sign a 13-year, $330-million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies.

To lure Rendon or Strasburg, they’ll likely need a more aggressive approach.

YOUR FAVORITE SPORTS MOMENT

What is your all-time favorite local sports moment? Email me at houston.mitchell@latimes.com and tell me what it is and why, and it could appear in a future Sports newsletter.

This moment comes from David Pohlod of Oak Park:

In 1984 my high school buddy took me to my first baseball game in San Diego. Saw Tony Gwynn get a hit. But unfamiliar with the game, at the seventh-inning stretch, I thought the game was over and started to leave the stadium. In 1986 my new girlfriend (now wife) declared: "...no dates out this week, World Series comes first...,” so I became a baseball (Padres) fan.

Naturally, I became a Gwynn fan. In the 1998 World Series, Game 1, Gwynn hits a home run in the fifth. After the series, Gwynn gives an interview in San Diego and states (with that big beautiful grin of his): “Man! I saw that home run on the big screen in the stadium, my swing was perfect, it was a home run that put us in the lead, and I looked great on national television!”

He was just so happy to help the Padres get a shot at the title. Miss that guy a ton.

TODAY’S LOCAL MAJOR SPORTS SCHEDULE

All times Pacific

Lakers at Utah, 6 p.m., Spectrum Sportsnet, 710 ESPN

Washington at Kings, 7 p.m., FSW

BORN ON THIS DATE

1868: Baseball player Jesse Burkett (d. 1953)

1930: Baseball player/manager Harvey Kuenn (d. 1988)

1931: Hockey player/coach Alex Delvecchio

1938: Equestrian Richard Meade (d. 2015)

1955: Kings player/executive Dave Taylor

1956: Basketball player Bernard King

1957: Baseball player Lee Smith

1957: Race car driver Raul Boesel

1961: Football player/coach Frank Reich

1963: Pole vaulter Sergey Bubka

1971: Boxer Shannon Briggs

1973: Basketball player Corliss Williamson

1985: Fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad

DIED ON THIS DATE

1944: Baseball player Roger Bresnahan, 65

AND FINALLY

Dave Taylor vs. Wayne Gretzky. Watch it here.

That concludes the newsletter for today. If you have any feedback, ideas for improvement or things you’d like to see, please email me at houston.mitchell@latimes.com. If you want to subscribe, click here.


Newsletter
Get our daily Sports Report newsletter
Advertisement