NFL Star Ray Lewis’ Son Died of Accidental Overdose, Now Researchers Say He Had Stage 2 CTE

"We are proud to honor Ray Ray’s legacy by teaching our youth about football safety while sharing and supporting research on CTE," Lewis said

<p>Joshua C. Cruey/Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty</p> Ray Lewis III

Joshua C. Cruey/Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty

Ray Lewis III

Almost a year after he died of an accidental overdose, the son of former NFL star Ray Lewis was found to have suffered from CTE, researchers now say.

In a press release from the Concussion Legacy Foundation (CLF), it was confirmed that Ray Lewis III, 28, had Stage 2 CTE. Dr. Ann McKee, director of the Boston University CTE Center, diagnosed Lewis with the brain condition commonly associated with football.

According to the CLF, "CTE can only be diagnosed after death," which is why this information is coming out now. While they did not know it at the time, researchers "suspected he was battling CTE" after learning that years before his death, the former football player was having issues with his memory, "becoming extremely forgetful, and exhibited erratic, sporadic behavior and impulsivity."

“Little did I know when I put my son in tackle football at age 5, I ran the risk of having to bury him 22 years later,” Tatyana McCall, Lewis’ mother, said, per the release. “I would have done something different now knowing the risks. We need to wait until our babies are at least 14 to allow them to play tackle football. It also breaks my heart that you have to die to get a diagnosis for this disease.”

Lewis, a Football Hall of Fame linebacker, also spoke on his late son’s diagnosis, saying, “We are proud to honor Ray Ray’s legacy by teaching our youth about football safety while sharing and supporting research on CTE.”

Related: Ray Lewis' Son, Ray Lewis III, Dies at 28: 'I Pray You're at Peace Now,' Says Brother

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Last July, it was confirmed that Lewis III died due to a deadly combination of drugs in his system, according to an autopsy report obtained by PEOPLE.

According to the findings dated July 23, 2023 from Medical Examiner Districts 5 & 24 in Florida, Lewis III died of fentanyl, cocaine and methamphetamine intoxication. The manner of death was ruled as accidental.

Per a report from the Casselberry Police Department obtained by PEOPLE, Lewis III was discovered unresponsive in a central Florida home on June 14, 2023. According to authorities, narcotics and alcohol were reportedly present at the scene. Among the items found were an anti-anxiety pill, a used needle and a plastic bag near a beer can.

Lewis III was administered police “department-issued Narcan” for treatment of narcotic overdose by an officer, which yielded no response. He was then transported via the Seminole County Fire Department to the Advent Health Hospital in Altamonte Springs, per the police report, where he was pronounced dead.

Related: Ray Lewis' Son Ray Lewis III Cause of Death Found to Be Lethal Mix of Drugs

<p>Lynne Sladky/AP</p> Ray Lewis III

Lynne Sladky/AP

Ray Lewis III

In a statement shared with PEOPLE at the time, the Casselberry Police Department said, "This investigation is closed. The evidence and witness accounts show this incident to be a tragic accident. Our sympathies go out to the Lewis family and friends.”

Lewis III started his football career as a running back at Lake Mary Prep in Florida. After graduating in 2013, he followed in his father's footsteps, joining the Miami Hurricanes at the University of Miami.

Two years later, he transferred to Coastal Carolina University, a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) program. His career there came to a halt in 2016 when he was dismissed from the team and the university after being indicted by a South Carolina grand jury on a charge of third-degree criminal sexual assault, the Orlando Sentinel reported. After a lengthy investigation, those charges were dropped by law enforcement.

He would later finish his college career off with the Virginia Union Panthers in 2017, and would go on to play indoor football for the Wyoming Mustangs in 2021.

In the release published on Thursday, May 23, Dr. Chris Nowinski, CLF CEO and co-founder, said that Lewis III’s death can help further the treatment and research efforts of CTE. “Stories like Ray Ray Lewis’ remind us why we need to accelerate efforts to prevent and treat CTE."

He added, "We thank his family for their dedication to research, education, and making football safer. Through brain donation, grieving football families have shown us how to make the sport safer. Now it is up to us all to act.”

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