As an offensive tackle for the University of North Carolina in the 1990s, Ryan Hoffman shielded quarterbacks and opened the way for running backs, but no one could protect him from the toll of that combat.
After football, Hoffman’s life spiraled downward. He abused drugs and alcohol, lost his marriage and jobs and ended up homeless in Florida. He told a New York Times sports writer, Juliet Macur, who reported on his plight: “Something is wrong with my brain.”
In November, Hoffman died after riding a bike the wrong way into traffic and being hit by a car. Researchers at Boston University and the Concussion Legacy Foundation analyzed his brain and found evidence of level 2 CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a dementia-like disease believed to be caused by repeated blows to the head.
Hoffman, 41, became the latest case of a deceased former football whose brain showed CTE. And he should become another reason for keepers of the sport and researchers to find ways to prevent such injuries.
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UNC-CH’s athletics officials and its football alumni reached out to help Hoffman after his circumstances gained national attention from the Times article. Now, UNC-CH, a national leader in studying sports-related brain injuries, must push on to help others who might be suffering from – or could be spared – CTE. Hoffman’s story brings home the urgency of that work.