The mental health of former college and professional football players took center stage in a billion-dollar lawsuit settled by the NFL and team owners. Payments have gone to former players and their families for contracting chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) resulting from hits to the head and concussions while playing football. Some have died of complications from this illness while others have dementia, memory lapses, mood swings, and even previously inexplicable changes in personality.
This seems to be the case for tight end Kellen Winslow who played in the NFL from 2004 to 2013. The father of two and husband to his high school sweetheart faced multiple sexual assault charges involving six women in two trials. The first trial in June 2019 led to a conviction in charges tied to three of the women. The second trial has just concluded with a plea bargain – already in jail, Winslow will face further sentencing in February 2020 for charges involving the other three women.
CTE causes a change in personality
Winslow could face up to 18 more years in jail but is seeking clemency because of his mental health. His behavior involved offering to help homeless women on two occasions but then assaulted them. He also exposed himself to a neighbor and engaged in lewd acts involving a woman at a gym where he worked out.
Winslow is not the only former player to face sexual assault charges, but experts are now seeing the connection to CTE and destructive behavior. High profile examples include Patriots’ tight end Aaron Hernandez who was convicted of murder in 2017 – he subsequently committed suicide in jail. There have also been other suicides by former players, including NFL legend Junior Seau.
Others injured as well
Not every injured player was an NFL star. Doctors see CTE in younger football players as well. This gets progressively worse as the victims get older with many of the same symptoms seen in NFL players. Former players and families may wish to follow Winslow’s lead to openly discuss their trauma and symptoms with the idea of why it happened and how to treat it. With an increased awareness surrounding CTE, the courts will hopefully consider the circumstances of the sexual assault before handing down a sentence. Treatment and rehabilitation may be the most effective solution to this tragic issue.