Dr. Ann McKee, the director of Boston University’s CTE Center, announced on Thursday that their researchers have discovered that former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez’s brain showed the most severe case of chronic traumatic encephalopathy ever seen in a person at his age of just 27.
Reports the Washington Post…
“In this age group, he’s clearly at the severe end of the spectrum,” McKee said. “There is a concern that we’re seeing accelerated disease in young athletes. Whether or not that’s because they’re playing more aggressively or if they’re starting at younger ages, we don’t know. But we are seeing ravages of this disease, in this specific example, of a young person.”
At Thursday’s conference, McKee flipped through slides comparing sections of Hernandez’s brain to a sample without CTE. Hernandez’s brain had dark spots associated with tau protein and shrunken, withered areas, compared to immaculate white of the sample. His brain had significant damage to the frontal lobe, which impacts a person’s ability to make decisions and moderate behavior. As some new slides appeared on the projectors, some physicians and conference attendees gasped.
“We can’t take the pathology and explain the behavior,” McKee said. “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, rage behaviors. We know that collectively.”
McKee said Hernandez had a genetic marker that makes people vulnerable to certain brain diseases and could have contributed to how aggressively he developed CTE.
She also stated that of the 468 brains that they have studied, the findings they discovered in Hernandez’s brain have only ever before been seen in “individuals some 20 years older.”
Images McKee shared showed the obvious severity of the damage caused by CTE in Hernandez’s brain.
These findings will certainly add duel to the fire that was just stoked on Tuesday night when Bob Costas said during a panel discussion held at the annual Shirley Povich Symposium, “The reality is that this game destroys people’s brains.”
USA Today also reported that Costas eventually sees the NFL disappearing as a viable professional sports league.
Speaking at a roundtable discussion at the University of Maryland, Costas, who hosted Football Night in America on NBC for more than a decade, said the sport could collapse over time, barring a development in technology to make it reasonably safe. He said the decline of football, which was once “a cash machine,” is the most significant story in American sports.
“The cracks in the foundation are there,” Costas said. “The day-to-day issues, as serious as they may be, they may come and go. But you cannot change the nature of the game. I certainly would not let, if I had an athletically gifted 12- or 13-year-old son, I would not let him play football.”
Tony Kornheiser, who also participated in the panel, agreed…
“It’s not going to happen this year, and it’s not going to happen in five years or 10 years,” Kornheiser said. “But Bob is right: At some point, the cultural wheel turns just a little bit, almost imperceptibly, and parents say, ‘I don’t want my kids to play.’ And then it becomes only the province of the poor, who want it for economic reasons to get up and out.
“If they don’t find a way to make it safe, and we don’t see how they will … the game’s not going to be around. It’s not.”
Costas added that with parents becoming more aware of the danger to their kids if they play football, the talent pool, at some point, will eventually become significantly smaller if not dry up completely.
“The whole thing could collapse like a house of cards if people actually begin connecting the dots,” said Costas.
Stories like this about Aaron Hernandez could certainly help speed that process up.