Rashaan Salaam was a former college star who won the Heisman Trophy in 1994 before spending four seasons in the NFL. In November of last year, he was also found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, according to the Boulder County Coroner’s office.
Salaam’s death shares many similarities to a number of former NFL players who have been diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease linked to repeated brain trauma. Players such as Jovan Belcher, Tom McHale, Terry Long, and Junior Seau, who committed suicide – usually by gunshot – after struggling with the permanent symptoms from brain trauma sustained during their time in the NFL.
Salaam was a bright star that burnt out too soon in football. After winning the Heisman in 1994, he won the NFC Rookie of the Year award with the Chicago Bears. However, only three seasons later his career suddenly ended partially due to injuries.
Rashaan Salaam’s brother, Jabali Alaji told USA Today that Salaam appeared to be showing signs of CTE before his death:
“Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is the disease associated with concussions and can only be diagnosed after death under current science. Alaji indicated that Salaam’s brain was not donated for evaluation of CTE because of their Muslim faith and burial rituals, which call for burial within days after death and forbid desecration of the body.
” ‘If Salaam’s brain were examined,’ Alaji said, ‘I would guarantee they’d find it. I would guarantee it.’ “
Despite this, the world will never know for sure whether Salaam developed CTE from his time in the league, like many other players who have recently taken their lives. The Boulder County Coroner’s office says it offered to test Salaam’s brain for CTE, but his family denied the procedure due to religious reasons.
Currently, the only way to objectively diagnose CTE is through a post-mortem autopsy to look for signs of tau proteins throughout the brain.