Dennis Williams

Dennis Williams played football for over 20 years and was known for being a fierce competitor with passion and drive. Due to his playing style and the amount of hits he received, he and his family suspected he may have CTE. Although Dennis’ brain could not be donated to the BU CTE Center for technical reasons, we are grateful to the Williams family for their commitment to our research.

Read Dennis’ story below.


When you ask Melba Taylor to describe her youngest brother, adventurous and intelligent are at the top of the list. Dennis Williams was the pride and joy of his family, a hometown hero who excelled academically and athletically and lived a life full of adventures and new experiences.

Dennis had an impressive football career. He started playing when he was nine years old and played through high school, into college and eight years for the U.S Air Force. Dennis was a fierce competitor his entire life. He always played to win and he played football with the same passion and drive for over 20 years.

His talent earned him a football and academic scholarship to Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina where he was the team’s quarterback. After leaving college, Dennis joined the Air Force, where he continued playing at Rhein-Main Air Force Base during his time in Germany. Even after he stopped playing, he stayed involved in the game by coaching. He last coached an amateur football team in Guam in 2015.

During his tour of duty in Germany and at the height of his Air Force football career, he met his first wife. At this time in his life, family members close to Dennis began noticing he was drinking more than he used to and saw changes in his personality. Later on, Dennis and his wife divorced.

After spending 13 years in the Air Force, Dennis worked as a logistics and transportation manager for various Department of Defense contractors and took assignments all over the world. While on assignment in Izmir, Turkey, he met and married his second wife. His alcoholism became progressively worse and those close to him attributed his personality changes to his drinking. His wife also noticed some bizarre changes in his personality.

In between contracts, he stayed with his sister Melba, which allowed her to monitor him. The two had been close their entire lives, so Melba quickly recognized changes in Dennis’ demeanor. She described his behavior as a downward spiral.

In 2019, he had his final assignment in Guam. Dennis chose to leave that assignment, which Melba, who also has experience in contracting, thought was strange. She described it as a solid contract and noted the people who hired Dennis really wanted him on the contract. He went back to Turkey to be with his wife in early 2020. Her growing concerns about his drinking and personality changes led her to check him into rehab several times, but he left against medical advice. His health began to decline and he started falling a lot. During one of these falls, he broke his leg and was hospitalized. Due to the language barrier, his family in the U.S. was not able to reach him at first and when they finally did, he explained he had broken his leg and was going to come back to the U.S. to recuperate. At the time, his family wanted to connect him with the Veteran Administration (VA) so he could receive benefits such as medical and psychological support and other resources, but he wasn’t interested. In July 2021, his family convinced him to go to a VA rehab center, but he only stayed there three weeks before convincing the staff that he was capable of living a sober, independent life. After rehab, he started drinking again and the downward spiral got worse. Melba recalls this being a very frightening stage because his cognitive skills were declining. He lost interest in grooming himself, eating, and didn’t keep his appointments with the VA.  He even stopped watching his favorite TV game show, Jeopardy.

In the fall of 2021, Dennis moved to South Carolina and shared a home with his oldest sister. At this point in his life, Melba described him as being a shell of himself, even saying it seemed he had lost his soul. He rarely came out of his room. He always drank alone, became more withdrawn, and didn’t interact much with his sister. Eventually even the daily tasks and small things he used to do no longer came naturally to him.

Dennis passed away on May 23rd, 2022 at the age of 57. The autopsy results state that Dennis died from ketoacidosis. His family believes that he actually starved himself to death.

Melba and her family didn’t believe everything Dennis had gone through could be attributed solely to his alcoholism. His children, Brandon and Jasmin, agreed that they should donate his brain in hopes of finding out if he had CTE. Though it was his family’s wish for Dennis’ brain to be donated to the BU CTE Center, a complication in the process prevented the donation.

Dennis was aware of CTE during his life and told Melba he probably had it because of the way he played and the number of hits he took. After his death, and with the support of Dennis’ wife and children, Melba has found ways to support CTE research and share Dennis’ story. When speaking with his former football friends and teammates after his death, she asked about his playing style and whether her concerns were warranted. They said he played hard and got hit hard many times; they were concerned about him. Melba heard from her nephew, Brandon, who had visited Dennis in Germany, that there were games where he couldn’t drive home afterward because he was so disoriented.

Though Dennis’ family isn’t able to receive a definitive CTE diagnosis, Melba hopes sharing his story may help bring closure. She believes in research wholeheartedly and says this type of research hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves, and we shouldn’t have to wait for high profile cases to look at the effects of these types of injuries.

Knowing Dennis’ passion for football, his family is ready to do what they can to contribute and add to the research.


 

 

 

 

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