Medical investigators who examined the brain of disgraced New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez said the NFL star had Stage 3 Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). Researchers said that Hernandez had the most severe case of the brain injury anyone had ever seen in someone so young. Hernandez hanged himself last April at the age of 27, in a prison cell while serving a life sentence for the murder of Odin Lloyd. A posthumous examination of his brain showed he had such a severe form of the degenerative brain disease CTE that the damage was akin to that of players well into their 60s.
CTE, which is caused by repetitive head trauma, has been linked to memory loss, depression, dementia, mood swings as well as problems with controlling impulsivity and aggression. A study released in July in The Journal of the American Medical Association found that of 111 NFL players whose brains were studied, 110 of them had signs of CTE.
The study was conducted by Boston University researcher Dr. Ann McKee who examined the brains of 202 deceased high school, college and professional football players, finding CTE in 177 of the 202 brains. The study examined players as young as 23 years old and as old as 89. The brains were also from all player positions including 44 linemen, 10 linebackers, 17 defensive backs and seven quarterbacks. Dr. McKee said her study showed that it is no longer debatable whether or not there is a problem in football—there is a problem.
The results of the study of Mr. Hernandez’s brain only add to the NFL’s public relations problems regarding CTE. The league has already faced backlash after other high-profile players were found to have C.T.E., including Junior Seau, Ken Stabler and Frank Gifford. Mr. Seau — along with Dave Duerson, Andre Waters and Ray Easterling, among others — killed himself. The release of the Journal of the American Medical Association study and now the recent findings regarding Hernandez only reignite backlash.
Though researchers did not make a direct link between Mr. Hernandez’s violence and his disease-the symptoms of the disease could explain or even have caused the decisions that led to his rise and fall. After the results of the study were made public, Hernandez’s estate filed a federal lawsuit against the N.F.L. and the New England Patriots seeking damages to compensate his 4-year-old daughter for the loss of her father. The suit alleges that the league and the team knew that repeated head hits could lead to the brain disease, yet did not do enough to protect Mr. Hernandez from those hits.
The Hernandez’s family lawyer, Jose Baez, said the family was also contemplating suing the N.C.A.A. and the University of Florida, where Mr. Hernandez played before playing for the Patriots. The N.F.L. did not comment on the medical finding and declined to comment on the suit. The New England Patriots also declined to comment.