In American football’s ongoing crisis, evidence continues to mount of brain injuries caused by repetitive brain trauma and concussion. The problem has been attracting national attention in the wake of the settlement of a major class-action lawsuit against the National Football League by former players with brain injuries. The settlement of the suit provides up to $5 million per retired player for serious medical conditions associated with repeated head trauma.
In addition, frightening new medical research results have shown that chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) among former NFL players is much more common that most people thought. In a study that made headlines, CTE was found in 99 percent of the brains of deceased NFL players—110 out of the 111 NFL players in the study. CTE significantly affects a person’s capabilities for decision-making, judgment and cognition.
In November, researchers at a medical conference revealed that former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez suffered the most severe case of CTE ever discovered in a person his age, according to the Washington Post. Hernandez hanged himself with a bedsheet in a Massachusetts prison earlier this year while serving a life sentence for the murder of semi-pro football player Odin Lloyd in 2013.
Researchers from Boston University’s CTE Center called the notorious player’s brain “one of the most significant contributions to our work,” in part because it offered a rare opportunity to study the disease in a 27-year-old. They showed slides of his brain damage, including shrinkage, loss of tissue, and abnormal, large holes that shocked the conference attendees. Said Ann McKee, the head of BU’s CTE Center, these were “very unusual findings in an individual of this age. We’ve never seen this … except in individuals some 20 years older.”
Although Hernandez had become a star player in college, he had a history of off-field trouble involving drugs and violence. He convinced the Patriots that he had straightened out his life, and the team signed him to a seven-year, $40 million contract after the 2012 season. Just months later, Lloyd was murdered. Hernandez was convicted of the killing in 2015.
Explained McKee, “We can’t take the pathology and explain the behavior. But we can say collectively, in our collective experience, that individuals with CTE, and CTE of this severity, have difficulty with impulse control, decision-making, inhibition of impulses for aggression, emotional volatility, [and] rage behaviors.”
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