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Jordan Parsons, the late Bellator fighter, is the first MMA competitor to ever be publicly diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), according to a report Thursday in the Boston Globe.
Dr. Bennet Omalu informed the Globe of Parsons’ diagnosis. Omalu is a forensic pathologist who first found CTE in a pro football player in 2003 and a pro wrestler in 2007.
CTE is a progressive degenerative brain disease found in those who have had severe or repeated blows to the head. Colloquially, it has been known as “punch drunk.” CTE can only be officially diagnosed through direct tissue examination post mortem.
Parsons died at the age of 25 on May 4 after a hit-and-run accident in Florida.
CTE has been at the center of lawsuits against the NFL and WWE. Omalu’s CTE diagnosis of Mike Webster, a former football player for the Pittsburgh Steelers, led to the NFL settling a lawsuit with players for $1 billion. Omalu was portrayed by Will Smith in the recent Hollywood film “Concussion,” based on the book of the same name by Jeanne Marie Laskas.
Hockey players are also suing the NHL in a similar case. With Omalu’s diagnosis of Parsons, promotions like the UFC and Bellator could be open to lawsuits as well. The UFC was just purchased by Hollywood talent agency WME-IMG in July for more than $4 billion. Bellator is owned by media conglomerate Viacom.
“These findings confirm that the danger of exposure to CTE is not limited to just football, hockey, and wrestling,” Omalu told the Globe. “Mixed martial arts is also a dangerous sport, and it’s time for everyone to embrace the truth.”
Bellator president Scott Coker released a statement to the Globe.
“Jordan was a shining star in this sport and a beloved member of the Bellator family who we miss very much and we continue to honor through the ‘Jordan Parsons Memorial Scholarship Fund,'” the statement said.
“Bellator MMA is committed to the safety of our fighters and has been a strong supporter of the Cleveland Clinic [Professional Fighters Brain Health Study] for the last few years.”
Parsons’ autopsy was done by Dr. Julia K. Kofler, a neuropathologist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Presbyterian. The college is associated with Omalu’s charitable foundation and he has endorsed Kofler’s findings.
“As a scientist, a physician, and a person of faith, I beg everybody involved with these sports to come together and identify the problems and find solutions,” Omalu said.
Omalu said it was “impossible” for the CTE to be caused by the accident that led to Parsons’ death, because “it is a chronic disease that develops over time.”
Konstantine Kyros, the Boston-area lawyer who helped players sue the NFL, told the Globe he has no plans to file a lawsuit against Bellator.
“Out of the tragedy of Mr. Parsons’ death, I hope the results serve to both warn and educate other athletes and their doctors about the hidden risks involved,” Kyros said.
Parsons was struck by an alleged drunk driver driving an SUV while walking across a road in Delray Beach, Fla., on May 1. The driver did not stop.
Dennis Wright, 28, was arrested six days later and is being accused of being the perpetrator. Wright, a multiple-time DUI offender, is facing several felony charges, including vehicular homicide. The case is ongoing.