My heart almost stopped when I saw the story tonight that the body of Cullen Finnerty, a star quarterback when he was in college, had been discovered in a woods in north Michigan. I know I shouldn’t jump to any conclusions, but of course I can’t help but suspect the obvious: Did this 30-year-old kill himself, and was it because of any brain injuries he sustained while playing?
There are a lot of leaps there, yes. But there have been so many ex-college and NFL players that have taken their own lives in the past few years that I’ve lost count. Junior Seau, Dave Duerson, others.
Finnerty, described by the Associated Press as “one of the winningest quarterbacks in college football history,” had been missing for several days after going out to fish near his family’s cottage in Webber Township. His body was found Tuesday night, and according to AP there was no sign of foul play. The cause of death wasn’t known, and an autopsy will be done.
I hope it wasn’t a suicide, but the circumstances leading up to his death once again make me think it was. Finnerty had spoken to one of his family members on his cellphone after he went off, and sounded “nervous,” AP reported, adding that his family feared he was having some kind of mental problem.
Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you’ve read about the research linking repeated blows to the head to brain damage, specifically to a disease called CTE for short. It is a degenerative disease that causes depression, memory loss, mood swings and many of the other symptoms of dementia.
As part of ongoing research, scientists have done posthumous studies of the brain tissue of ex-college and pro players, and found they were suffering from CTE. That group includes Seau and Duerson. I fear it might also include Finnerty.
According to AP, Finnerty took Grand Valley State University to three Division II national titles and more than 50 wins during his four years at the school.
Finnerty was a college star, but he never made it to the big leagues. He was part of the Baltimore Ravens for a short time, and then was with the Denver Broncos, but according to AP he never played in an NFL game.
Perhaps he just couldn’t deal with not making it in the NFL, and his death had nothing to do with CTE. As one man posted on the AP story, “Rest in peace. It is hard to adjust when the crowd stops cheering.” So true.