IOWA CITY, Iowa – Tyler Sash dedicated much of his short life to playing football aggressively and with no fear.
Sadly, the game that he adored and from which he achieved stardom you could argue ultimately contributed to the tragic circumstances that led to his death at the age of 27.
We learned that sobering truth on Tuesday when the New York Times reported that CTE had been diagnosed in Sash’s brain and had advanced to a stage rarely seen in someone his age.
CTE, which stands for chronic traumatic encephalopathy, is a degenerative brain disease caused by repeated trauma that has been found in numerous NFL players.
Sash was cut by the New York Giants in 2013 after suffering at least five concussions. The former all-Big Ten defensive back at Iowa also suffered one concussion as a Hawkeye, according to the New York Times article, and two in high school.
Sash’s family members told the New York Times that his behavior had become unpredictable and irregular. He had bouts of confusion and memory loss and would lose his temper.
He was arrested in his hometown of Oskaloosa for public intoxication after leading police on a chase on a motorized scooter.
He struggled to find employment because he couldn’t stay focused long enough to finish a job.
Sash’s mother, Barnetta Sash, told the New York Times that she blamed much of her son’s changeable behavior on the prescription drugs he was taking for a football-related shoulder injury that needed surgery.
Tyler Sash died of an accidental drug overdose at his home in Oskaloosa on Sept. 8.
Hawkeye fans were devastated and confused by his death. How could somebody who had achieved so much in a short time meet such a sad an untimely demise?
We now have at least part of the answer. Sash’s brain was being ravaged by a disease that ultimately could prove to be football’s toughest opponent.
His mother had donated his brain to be tested for CTE, hoping to find some answers.
Last week, representatives from Boston University and the Concussion Legacy Foundation notified the Sash family that C.T.E. had been diagnosed in Tyler’s brain and that the disease, which can be confirmed only posthumously, had advanced to a stage rarely seen in someone his age.
It’s hard to think of life without football. Baseball might be America’s pastime, but football is America’s prime time.
The game is immensely popular, but also being scrutinized and questioned like never before. Fans cringe in response to a bone-jarring hit, but they also crave the violence.
But for how long?
The violence loses much of its appeal when you see the disturbing side effects.
And with tragedies like Sash’s untimely death, it makes you wonder if football is living on borrowed time. The sport already has changed dramatically in the past decade to where anybody leading with their helmet on a tackle is at risk of being suspended for targeting.
NFL quarterbacks are almost untouchable and the days of laying out a defenseless receiver are gone.
And yet, players still suffer from concussions because it’s unavoidable in a sport where the object is to tackle the person with the ball.
A former NFL player told me recently that he isn’t sure if the game of football as we know it will even be around in 20 years. To say that I was stunned would be an understatement.
If a hardened former NFL player thinks that way about football, imagine what some of the mothers of young children must be thinking. Sash’s death is almost as scary as it is sad. It’s a tragic warning about a sport that could be destroying lives, one hit at a time.
It’s not fair to single out just football because concussions also occur in other sports. But there aren’t many other sports where almost every play ends with a violent collision.
The game brought a lot happiness to Sash’s life. It made him a star. It paid for his college education. And it took him to the Super Bowl as a rookie with the New York Giants.
But he also paid a heavy price for being a football player.
Sash was only 27 when he died, but he had played tackle football for more than half of his life. His head suffered blows at each level.
You feel for his family and hope that time will make it easier for them to deal with such a devastating loss.
At least now, they have some answers that don’t speak well for the future of football.