The parents of Tyler Hilinski announced Tuesday during an interview on NBC'S TODAY show that their son had the degenerative brain condition chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) when he died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head in January.
Mark and Kym Hilinski found out after they agreed to give Tyler's brain to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota for an autopsy, they said.
As researchers have moved beyond the NFL to look at the brains of high school and college athletes, they're increasingly finding signs of traumatic brain injuries in young football players.
"I don't think so", Kym Hilinski said in a Sports Illustrated documentary about Tyler's life. "I think the fact that how he did it was a shock in itself". The boy suffered multiple concussions while playing football, and his brain was the earliest evidence of CTE yet found in a human brain. The documentary centers around the Hilinski family searching for answers into what exactly caused his death, and if their son having CTE contributing to his suicide. "We wanted to know everything we could, find out everything we could, so of course we immediately we said sure", he said of the Clinic's request.
"The medical examiner said he had the brain of a 65-year-old, which is really hard to take", Mark Hilinski, Tyler's father, told Kotb.
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The VA Boston Healthcare System and Boston University School of Medicine conducted a study of the brains of 202 deceased American football players previous year that showed 87 percent of the players had CTE.
"We were in complete shock", Mark Hilinski said. "I don't think he'd want me to stop".
His family noticed other, seemingly minor changes in Tyler after the Arizona loss. "And to realize that the sport that he loved may have contributed to that diagnosis". He became the team's backup quarterback in 2016 and got his first real action this past season. "So I have to do what most moms do and just hide what I feel".
The family has started the Hilinski's Hope Foundation to raise awareness about mental health wellness for student-athletes. "They need it. There's not enough out there".