Misdiagnosis Led to the Downfall of Titus Young and Aaron Hernandez

Author: URMND Contributor Gary Taylor, MSW

I was talking to Ryan a couple weeks ago, about the article he posted of Titus Young, former Wide Receiver of the Detroit Lions.. I found the story to be wildly familiar to the story of former New England Tight End, Aaron Hernandez. With new research findings on CTE and the NFL constantly in hot water about concussion protocols this story was fitting.

The story is from ESPN and opens up about a 141 page diary Young has written while incarcerated that touches his struggles. Young is incarcerated at the California Rehab Center where he resides after a street fight in 2016. Young highlights hearing voices, and stating that it feels like someone is trying to kill him. Also highlighted in the article, Young’s father reported, that after a concussion in 2011 Young started to change.

Young was diagnosed with Bi-Polar and Schizophrenia and prescribed Seroquel, a common drug used to treat psychosis, mania and sleep. However reading further into the article when admitted to inpatient treatment, it appeared Young had been misdiagnosed and was actually suffering from symptoms of CTE.

The writer from ESPN seems to attribute Young’s symptoms to mental illness, as he has now stabilized on medications. I really was frustrated at this whole story, not because of the message, but how it was packaged as just a mental illness, when clearly a misdiagnosis occurred. Other factors that bother me are the instant diagnosis of Bi-Polar in brown boys with examining historical factors along with not taking into account the role of CTE.  Let us dissect..

My issue lies here; we have three specific factors at play. CTE and football, mental health/mental illness and stigma.

CTE and Football: For us football fans, we are aware of CTE. The documentaries that have came out, along with interviews with former players shows the dangers of playing football. Concussions have to be handled very carefully if not they can have serious detrimental effects. Reports show CTE is so bad on the brain that athletes who may be in their 30s or 40s could have the brain of a 60 or 70 year old.

Per research, symptoms include memory loss, mood lability, irritability, anger outbursts, hallucinations, thoughts to harm self and others. If you know anything about neuro-psychology, it will tell you the prefrontal lobe meaning the front part of your brain controls your impulses and reasoning and is not fully developed until the age of 25. During concussions, the brain is jarred and moves causing it to swell. Damage to the prefrontal lobe in an athlete who doesn’t have a fully developed lobe is a serious problem.

Considering athletes that come into the league are in there early 20s. The other issue is that I learned in a CPR class, is that technically kids who play sports who receive a concussion at an early age should be held out of sports for at least a year. If the child or then adult receives another concussion by the age of 25, he should stop playing sports all together. How many of our professional athletes have had concussions? How many may have had one, but kept playing and did not know they had one. How many have had a concussion and kept playing? CTE is very dangerous and mimics mental illness and symptoms of dementia. Titus Young should have received the appropriate treatment necessary for CTE when they found out he was misdiagnosed and maybe he would have not ended up jail.

Mental Health/Mental Illness: I am not sure of Young’s history or age, but if he was diagnosed with Bi-Polar, or Schizophrenia around the age of 25 or so, then it’s on par for onset. However, it would be interesting to see if his family has a history of Bi-Polar or Schizophrenia. What we know is that stigma in the black community around Mental Health is prevalent. Young said it himself; he did not want to believe the diagnosis at first. In the field and in society I have noticed a trend. It seems to me that angry brown boys seem to be categorized as Bi-Polar extremely fast, or the diagnosis I do not agree with Oppositional Defiance Disorder. It does not appear that environmental factors are taken into account when it comes to poverty, trauma, or generational mindsets.

Take for example the Aaron Hernandez case. Once he was locked up for that last charge many reports came out about his past life. Do enough research you will find that Hernandez did have a troubled childhood and may or may not been involved in gang violence. When Hernandez passed away in his cell due to an alleged suicide attempt, more reports came out that Hernandez had a severe case of CTE.

So now you have an individual who:

  1. Was exposed to trauma throughout his life and other mental health issues.
  2. A direct result of concussions resulting in CTE.
  3. A young man who was misunderstood his entire life.

Stigma: Society fails to realize the vast majority of professional stars; mainly the brown ones come from impoverished backgrounds. Some all they know is survival, because that is what they are born into. A lot go through so much trauma, never receive any kind of therapy and treatment for it. When they get to the professional spotlight and make mistakes (which they are human), everyone wants to put them down, call them thugs, dive into their past, reports how they should act more professional.

Stephen A. Smith come have a seat real quick, because you are quick to condemn a black athlete for smoking weed, without looking into the specifics as why they are smoking weed. More analysts do this, along with society. It is unfair to the athlete of color that they have to constantly stay in fight or flight mode, until they really understand the depths of issues they have faced.

Brown athletes have to constantly overcome adversity in order to succeed. Now take a young black boy from an impoverished environment with a particular mindset, exposed to traumatic events. Now turn that over and push them into the professional spotlight, give them tons of money, and oh! have them continue suppress issues from their past. We do these athletes a disservice by treating them only as athletes and not as human beings, human beings from a traumatic past. The same goes for those who suffer from mental illness, treating them only as a patient, and not a human being who has some struggles.  

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