Tyler Hilinski’s parents say CTE diagnosis ‘filled in some of the questions’
Five months after the suicide of 21-year-old Washington State University quarterback Tyler Hilinski, his parents have some insight as to what may have caused the seemingly happy star athlete to end his life.
Post-mortem testing by the Mayo Clinic revealed that Tyler had stage one Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a progressive brain disease typically found in athletes due to repeated trauma to the head.
“They said that his brain resembled more of a 60-year-old or 60-plus-year-old from the medical examiner’s office than what she would expect or she had seen in a normal 21-year-old athlete,” Tyler’s dad, Mark Hilinski, described to KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson.
CTE has been found in autopsies of hundreds of NFL players’ brains.
“The first thing I thought of was that we allowed our son to play football, we allowed his brothers to play football … and then Tyler develops CTE,” Tyler’s mom, Kym Hilinski, said. “Did that play a part in what he did on January 16? I think it did … it filled in some of the questions that we had.”
Kym told Dori last month that Tyler was “the happiest kid [she] ever met.” Now she and Mark finally have an idea of what could have pushed Tyler to the breaking point.
“It did help us realize that there’s something that just wasn’t right with Tyler,” Kym said. “Now we have something concrete to focus on besides the ‘why.'”
Still, Mark and Kym said that they do not feel angry about football, which has played a large role in the lives of all three of their sons.
“There’s no bitterness toward football the sport … we’re not blaming football,” Mark said. “We have three kids that played football … there are millions of kids who have played football for 90 years.”
The Hilinskis are still allowing their 17-year-old son, whom Mark described as “an awfully good quarterback,” to play football. If any future grandchildren want to play football, the Hilinskis said that it may be a good idea to wait to introduce the sport at a later age, but that the decision will depend on what future CTE research reveals.
“Like a lot of sports, it’s a risk that we have to, as a family and as individual players, sort of assess,” Mark said.
The Hilinskis don’t believe that football injuries are the sole cause of Tyler’s death; they believe that Tyler must also have been silently suffering from depression.
“I don’t think it’s entirely what happened on January 16,” Kym said.
Kym had told Dori last month that Tyler put pressure on himself to succeed, and took football losses very hard. Last November, Tyler told his girlfriend that he was sad. This was shortly after receiving a blow to the head while playing Arizona, which could indicate a CTE correlation.
“We’re trying to put the pieces together, but at the same time, we’re trying to move forward so we can help these student athletes,” Kym said.
And that’s exactly what the Hilinski family is doing through its nonprofit, Hilinski’s Hope, which educates students on disorders such as anxiety and depression, provides mental health support for student athletes, and tries to erase the stigma surrounding mental illness. Hilinski’s Hope believes that the same attention given to physical health should be given to mental health.
In just its first few months, Hilinski’s Hope has taken off. His parents believe that this is all due to how well-loved Tyler was.
“There’s some power, some light that Tyler had, that is going to keep living on,” Kym said. “And everybody that has been touched by either his thought, his memory … they’re going to follow this path with us, and we have a journey together that I think very many people have committed to being on with us. And we’re so grateful for that — it actually gives us strength.”