Family of Ex-Steelers Lineman Donates His Brain to CTE Research


Getty Carlton Haselrig before a Pittsburgh Steelers game in 1992.

Last month former Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Jets offensive lineman Carlton Haselrig died at the age of 54.

Yesterday the Tribune-Democrat reported that Haselrig’s family is donating the former football star’s brain to Boston University’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center, which is one of the world’s leading brain injury research institutions. BU’s CTE Center specializes in chronic traumatic encephalopathy, “a common term used to describe the brain of an individual who repeatedly faced head traumas, specifically those, like Carlton, who played aggressive, vigorous sports a majority of their life,” said the family in a statement.

CTE Suspected

“What many people do not know is that Carlton had already undergone previous testing through Boston University’s CTE Center due to his reoccurring head trauma throughout his athletic years,” the Haselrig family statement read. “Donating his brain provides another opportunity for the scientists at Boston University to compare his previous records, analyze, and better understand the long-term effects of head traumas.

“Though his CTE diagnosis is to be determined … we believe the diagnosis will be confirmed,” the statement continued.

Bruce Haselrig, Carlton’s uncle, told the Tribune-Democrat that the Boston University research was important to Carlton, saying, “He wanted to be very supportive of the research to help athletes and football players in the future.”

For his part, Bruce Haselrig said he wonders whether head injuries “had an effect on his brain and may have done something to affect some things he was going through the last year and a half.”

Renaming a Bridge in Carlton Haselrig’s Honor

Separately the Tribune-Democrat reported that an effort is underway in Haselrig’s hometown of Johnstown, Pennsylvania to name a bridge or walkway after the former football and wrestling great. One proposal involves renaming the Hickory Street Bridge, which is located in the Hornerstown neighborhood where Haselrig lived.

Haselrig is a legend in his hometown, and last year Kevin Emily published a biography called Giant Killer: The Carlton Haselrig Story, which highlights Haselrig’s athletic achievements, as well as his struggles with drug abuse, which likely shortened his NFL career.

Never mind the fact that Haselrig didn’t play football in college. It didn’t stop the Steelers from selecting him in the 12th round of the 1989 NFL Draft. He went on to play four seasons as an offensive lineman with the Steelers—earning All-Pro honors in 1992, Bill Cowher’s first year as a head coach—before playing one more season in the NFL with the New York Jets. In 1992 he helped Barry Foster rush for 1,690 yards, arguably the best-ever season by a Steelers running back.

In addition to his exploits on the football field, Haselrig won six NCAA wrestling titles at Division II Pitt-Johnstown in the late 1980s, three in Division I and three in Division II. That’s a record that will never be duplicated, as Haselrig’s success prompted the NCAA to change the rules to prevent Division II and Division III wrestlers from competing for the Division I championship—the so-called “Haselrig Rule.”

In his later years Haselrig served as an assistant coach of the football and wrestling teams at Greater Johnstown High School in Johnstown, where he attended high school.

Haselrig isn’t the first former NFL player from Johnstown to donate his brain to BU’s CTE Center. According to the Tribune-Democrat, Pete Duranko—a former Denver Broncos lineman and standout at the University of Notre Dame—donated his brain, spinal column and eyes to the center after his death at age 67 in July 2011. Eleven years earlier, Duranko had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, aka ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Postmortem research later revealed that Duranko also had CTE.

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