Aaron Hernandez had advanced CTE from playing football
A number of football players suffer from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, known as CTE. It is a degenerative brain disease that emerges as a result of repeated head trauma, exactly the type of risk that every football player in America faces. Aaron Hernandez committed suicide in May 2017, but after his autopsy, an examination of his brain revealed that at the time of his death, he was suffering from stage 3 CTE. Stage 4 is the most severe stage.
Hernandez's lawyer, Jose Baez, explained this at a press conference today, where he also announced that a lawsuit would be filed against the NFL and the New England Patriots, working with Hernandez's daughter to seek restitution for her father's brain injuries sustained on the field.
Hernandez was one of the most controversial figures in the NFL. After a lengthily trial for the 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd, Hernandez was sentenced to life in prison, and killed himself shortly after, all to the coverage of the world. What is unknown is what degree that CTE played in his mindset, either leading to his suicide or even to criminal behavior, though that link has not been proven.
The most common symptoms of CTE brain trauma are violent mood swings, depression, impaired impulse control, lack of memory, and overall cognitive impairment. The disease often occurs in the form of multiple concussions. A recent study found that out of 111 former NFL players, a total of 110 showed signs of CTE, indicating that football does quite clearly lead to severe brain trauma.
However, CTE can only be diagnosed from an autopsy. There is no way to look into a living person's brain and identify the disease until they have already died. Perhaps Hernandez, for all his violence and the life he led, could lead to a major action by the NFL to answer the rising problem of CTE in its players.
Aaron Hernandez's brain will be donated to Boston University's Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center, where more research will be conducted on his condition. He was released from the Patriots in 2013, after his arrest for the murder of Odin Lloyd, and one week before he committed suicide, Hernandez was cleared of a separate murder case, a 2012 drive-by shooting in Boston.
The NFL has been avoiding the fact that its sport causes brain damage to its players, largely due to the popularity and immense financial gains of American football. Admitting a systemic problem may result in changes to the sport that would reduce its popularity, damage the standing of the NFL, or introduce new regulations that would change the game forever.
But when 110 out of 111 former players have all suffered from CTE, when do we finally say that enough is enough? How much overwhelming evidence do we need? The brain health of NFL players should not be negotiable, and the league should answer to mounting evidence that there is a serious problem here that is damaging the lives of its players and impairing their mental health.
We will surely be covering more on this issue as the 2017-2018 football season progresses.