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Notre Dame football alums, twins Josh and George Atkinson III diagnosed with CTE
Brothers died 11 months apart, sons of former Raiders star George Atkinson II
(Boston) – For the first time, twin brothers have been diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) after their deaths. Josh Atkinson and George Atkinson III both played football for the University of Notre Dame beginning in 2011. George III went on to play several seasons in the NFL. Boston University CTE Center researchers diagnosed both Josh and George III with stage 1 CTE after their deaths in 2018 and 2019, respectively.
“The Atkinson twins, and all sets of family members in our brain bank, are helping teach us about the genetic risk factors for CTE,” said Dr. Ann McKee, chief of neuropathology for the VA Boston Healthcare System and director of the Boston University CTE Center and UNITE Brain Bank. “These incredible families, which include multiple fathers and sons as well as brothers, give us special insights that could lead to future CTE treatments.”
Josh and George III are the sons of former Oakland Raiders All-Pro safety and Super Bowl XI champion George Atkinson II. In 2016, George II pledged to donate his brain to the Concussion Legacy Foundation for CTE research after his death and revealed he was suffering from suspected CTE symptoms.
Josh Atkinson took his own life at age 26 on Christmas Day in 2018, just two months after the death of his mother. He began playing tackle football at age 8 and was a star running back and defensive back for Granada High School in Livermore, Calif. before beginning his career as a cornerback at Notre Dame. He played three seasons at Notre Dame where he was also an All-Big East sprinter for the track and field team.
George Atkinson III played tackle football for 18 years beginning at age 8. He was the lead kickoff returner for the Irish, including for the team that played in the 2012 National Championship. After Notre Dame, he signed with the Oakland Raiders and later played for multiple teams in the NFL. In an open letter to The Unsealed published weeks before his death, George III detailed the suffering he endured after losing his brother.
George III revealed he had been diagnosed with depression and institutionalized for suicidal ideation, and that his mother had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. He took his own life in November 2019 at age 27.
“Suicide is complex and multifactorial, so CTE does not explain suicide.” said Dr. Chris Nowinski, Concussion Legacy Foundation CEO. “However, former athletes frequently struggle with mental health symptoms and need help, and the presence of CTE does not make it easier. Preventing CTE, as well as concussions, is a critical component of improving the mental health of contact sport athletes.”
According to a study published earlier this year in JAMA Neurology of 152 brain donors who died before the age of 30, including both Josh and George III, it was unclear whether clinical symptoms including depression, apathy, and behavior dysregulation were caused by CTE, concussions or were independent of brain trauma.
CTE can only be diagnosed after death. There is no known cure, but treatments are available for many symptoms of the disease. The CLF HelpLine is available to provide personalized support for any current or former athletes concerned about concussions or suspected CTE and looking for help. Patients and caregivers can submit a request here.
Josh and George III’s stories are included with several other athletes who died young and were later diagnosed with CTE in a feature report printed in today's New York Times.