Cullen Finnerty was a golden boy of the gridiron, quarterbacking Grand Valley State University in Michigan to three NCAA Division 2 championships between 2003 and 2006. But Finnerty, 30, met a shocking end: He died slowly of pneumonia caused by choking on his own vomit, after he became disoriented while on a fishing trip in the Michigan woods in May. He was taking the prescription painkiller oxycodone, which can cause disorientation, but an autopsy also showed the degenerative disease found in the brains of many former football players: chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.
Boston University researchers who examined Finnerty’s brain said there is no way to know what role the disease played in his death. But Finnerty, who left behind a wife and two young children, is one of the younger players to be diagnosed with CTE, which can cause depression and dementia.