Hilderaldo Bellini may not be a household name like his teammate Pelé, but soccer fans are likely to be familiar with the name. The Brazilian soccer star led the country’s team to win the 1958 World Cup and is memorialized in a statue at the entrance of the Estádio do Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro.
This week he also became the first professional soccer player to be diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) after his death at the age of 83.
CTE, a neurodegenerative brain disease associated with football and boxing and quickly becoming a concern in soccer, can only be diagnosed posthumously at the moment. Because of this, it was believed Bellini was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease at the time of his death, but researchers now say they have observed an advanced case of the brain disease during an autopsy.
The diagnosis makes Bellini only the second known case of the brain disease in soccer, according to Dr. Ann McKee, a neuropathologist at Boston University and Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Bedford, Massachusetts who helped assist with the examination of Bellini’s brain. However, only an extremely small number of soccer players have been examined for the disease after death.
Notably, McKee was told that Bellini was not believed to have suffered any head injuries during his life outside of soccer.
McKee was also involved with the diagnosis of CTE in the brain ofa 29-year-old who played soccer at the semiprofessional level. She has also said she is aware of a third former soccer player who had the condition, but is not authorized to identify the individual yet.