In breaking news, 21-year-old Washington State University quarterback Tyler Hilinski, who was found dead by an apparent suicide in January, was confirmed to have had Stage 1 of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) at the time of his death, following an examination by the Mayo Clinic. Hilinski’s parents, Mark and Kym, revealed the findings during an interview this morning with Hoda Kotb on NBC’s Today.
“Did football kill Tyler? I don’t think so,” said Kym during the segment in a voiceover, which featured footage that showed Hilinski on the field with his teammates. “Did he get CTE from football? Probably.”
Symptoms of the degenerative condition, which has been linked to repeated head injuries and/or traumas, include depression, emotional instability, and suicidal thoughts or behavior. Head injuries, CTE, and football have been linked before: “In a convenience sample of 202 deceased players of American football from a brain donation program, CTE was neuropathologically diagnosed in 177 players across all levels of play (87%), including 110 of 111 former National Football League players (99%),” according to the results of an original investigation by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
The staggering findings accompany Sports Illustrated’s reporting on Hilinski’s well-being and condition at the time of his death, including that a doctor told Tyler's mother that his brain looked “like that of a much older, elderly man.” The Hilinskis, and the events that transpired after Tyler’s death, are also the topic of Losing Tyler, a new Sports Illustrated documentary that “chronicles the Hilinski family’s search for answers in the aftermath of tragedy.”
In the wake of the findings, the Washington State University Athletics Department released a statement reiterating their commitment to the mental health of the university’s collegiate athletes. However, at no point in the statement was CTE mentioned, nor the link between head trauma, football, and the condition.
In Hilinski’s memory, his family members and friends founded the Hilinski’s Hope Foundation, a “non-profit foundation with the goal of keeping Tyler’s memory alive and generating the funding necessary to support programs that will help destigmatize mental illness.”
Hilinski was a beloved player on the university’s football team and member of the Coug community, with Washington State football coach Mike Leach remembering Hilinski in a statement following his death as “an incredible young man and everyone who had the privilege of knowing him was better for it.”