Cougars QB Tyler Hilinski, who died by suicide, had degenerative brain disease CTE

SEATTLE -- When Washington State University quarterback Tyler Hilinski took his own life, autopsy results show he was suffering from a degenerative brain disease linked to concussions.

Hilinski had stage 1 CTE, or Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, linked to concussions, his family said Tuesday.

The 21-year-old had the brain of a 65-year-old, his family said one doctor told them.

CTE kills brain cells and it can lead to depression, aggression and memory loss.

When Q13 News sat down with Tyler’s mom and brother in May, CTE specifically was not a part of the conversation but the stresses and pressures of Tyler’s role was.

“Do I blame football? No. Do I think it may have played a part on what happened on January 16th, I think it obviously did, I don’t know how much of a part,” mom Kym Hilinski said.

News that another high-profile football player had CTE is not lost on former NFL player Tory Humphrey.

“You think about, is something wrong with my brain? What was that emotion about? Could that be tied to CTE? There is no way, you know, to test for it while you are alive so it’s always in the back of your mind,” Humphrey said.

Humphrey was a tight end for the Green Bay Packers for years. He now coaches middle and high school football players in Western Washington.

“It’s about coaches who know how to play the game. If you can’t teach a kid how to tackle properly, or how to take a hit properly, they will always kind of lead with their head and that’s where all the problems come in,” Humphrey said.

Humphrey says concussions and brain injuries are now at the forefront of his mind while coaching -- something that wasn’t the case when he was playing.

“Back when I was playing, it was a kind of a joke. You had a concussion, guys would laugh at you, it was a sign of toughness. But nowadays, looking back on it, I kind of worry,” Humphrey said.

Humphrey said football needs to change. His personal belief is that young kids should not be tackling at all and that includes his almost 11-year-old son.

“He’s playing flag football and he’s not going to play tackle until I think he is ready, I don’t think kids should be tackling maybe until high school because they don’t have the right coaching at an early age,” Humphrey said.

He says coaches and parents need to know that many young athletes -- and not just football players -- will be hesitant to speak up with concerns.

“Kids are not always going to say, 'I feel dizzy, I feel lightheaded, I have a concussion.' They want to keep playing. Always keep the line of communication open,” Humphrey said.

Humphrey still loves football and so do the Hilinskis.

“It played a major part in Tyler’s happiness and who Tyler was,” Kym said.

WSU says since Tyler's death they have implemented a number of new policies. They include a second mental health screening for all their football players and meetings with their varsity athletes about mental health.

They also have a full-time clinical psychologist on staff now in the athletic department.