First Professional Female Athlete Diagnosed With CTE

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Australian rules football player Heather Anderson has become the first professional female athlete to be diagnosed with CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy).

Anderson was a member of the Australian Football League Women’s 2017 Adelaide team before she retired later that year. Sadly, she took her life last year at the age of 28. Her family donated her brain to the Australian Sports Brain Bank where researchers have now concluded that she had been suffering from CTE.

Heather had “multiple CTE lesions as well as abnormalities nearly everywhere I looked in her cortex,” ASBB co-author Michael Buckland wrote. “It was indistinguishable from the dozens of male cases I’ve seen.”

Heather Anderson played women’s Australian rules football before she was diagnosed with CTE. (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)


Her family is trying to use the findings to keep not only keep Heather’s memory alive, but also to help other female athletes. “Now that this report has been published, I’m sort of trying to think about how it might play out for female sportspeople everywhere,” Brian Anderson said. He added that the CTE diagnosis “was a surprise, but not a surprise.”

CTE is a neurodegenerative disease that can occur after repeated strikes to the head – something that many professional athletes encounter. For some, it can also add to various psychiatric activity which has unfortunately been found in the deaths of athletes, specifically. It has been found in deceased players from 33-year-old Demaryius Thomas, to Irv Cross with many greats like Emmitt Smith saying they are concerned about eventually being diagnosed with it.

Buckland and the other researchers involved in Heather’s study say that her diagnosis was a significant step into learning more about how women are affected by the disease. But unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be getting better any time soon. “It’s a real red flag that now women are participating [in contact sports] just as men are, that we are going to start seeing more and more CTE cases in women,” Buckland added.

If you are in emotional distress or suicidal crisis or are concerned about someone who might be, you can contact 800-273-8255 at any time.

Written by Mike Gunzelman

Mike “Gunz” Gunzelman has been involved in the sports and media industry for over a decade. He’s also a risk taker - the first time he ever had sushi was from a Duane Reade in Penn Station in NYC.

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