Another worrying sign in Grange’s case is the fact that he was diagnosed with ALS at just 27. McKee said it is extremely rare for a person as young as Grange to be diagnosed and that it is likely that the hits Grange took as player may have led to his CTE and contributed to his ALS.
According to the ALS foundation, most people who contract the disease are between the ages of 40 and 70.
At the CTE center, McKee said, they have found 13 people with both ALS and CTE and four were in their 20s. McKee said researchers believe those athletes may be suffering from a type of ALS connected to CTE.
“Much more work that needs to be done. We’re very interested in this connection,” said McKee. "It’s looking more and more that there’s a connection between ALS-like disease and traumatic injury.”
In 2004, an Italian study of 7,325 male soccer players found that the players were at an increased risk of contracting ALS, although it was unclear how or why they were more at risk.
Lipton said what has become clear is that repeated brain trauma from any kind of sport can lead to devastating consequences later on.
“I’m not convinced that this is the first case of CTE being related to soccer. My expectation would be as everyone’s is: There is nothing unique about football or hockey that leads to CTE; it’s repetitive trauma,” said Lipton. “The reason we haven’t seen soccer is really just a matter of recognition. It’s not on the radar in the same way.”