May 14, 2012
Junior Seau shot himself in the chest three weeks ago. He retired in 2009 after playing in the NFL for 19 years. Given the recent spotlight on CTE, Seau’s suicide raised speculation that CTE was a factor.
Last year former Chicago Bears defensive back Dave Duerson also shot himself in the chest, leaving a hand written note stating: “Please, see that my brain is given to the NFL’s brain bank.” Duerson, who played 11 seasons as a battering ram, wanted his brain tested for chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE. CTE is a progressive degenerative disease, diagnosed after death in individuals with a history of multiple concussions and other forms of head injury. It is thought to be caused by the accumulation of tau proteins in the brain that kill cells in the regions responsible for mood, emotion and planning. Tau proteins are also found in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease but the patterns of deposits differ between the two conditions. Individuals with CTE can show symptoms of dementia such as memory loss, aggression, confusion, poor judgement and depression, which can appear within months of the trauma or many decades later.
In 2010 a 21-year old college football player hung himself. The autopsy revealed that Owen Thomas had CTE. Thomas was a lineman, a position that endures as many as 1,000 hits to the head per season. Even though he had never been diagnosed as having a concussion, this young player had brain damage more often seen in NFL veterans.
In fourteen brains of late NFL players studied, thirteen of them showed signs of CTE.
It is no accident that team owners turned a blind eye to CTE – and still do. The players are expendable even if they are highly paid. The owners have no problem with using up players to fill seats only to throw them in the garbage heap when they can no longer play.