Concussions & the NFL: NFL Player Dave Duerson Suffered from Advanced CTE

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Dave Duerson of the Chicago Bears, NY Giants and Phoenix Cardinals suffered from an advanced form of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). He commit suicide on February 17, 2011 at the age of 50. football players and the media are calling him "Football's first martyr".

Before he took his life, he took steps to help others: he left a note and text messages and asked his survivors to donate his brain to research, specifically to the Boston University Center studying long term brain damage and CTE.

According to the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, CTE is "a progressive, degenerative disease of the brain found primarily in athletes with a history of repetitive brain trauma (including symptomatic and asymptomatic sub-concussive hits to the head). CTE has been know to affect boxers (e.g the Punch-Drunk effect). Repetitive trauma triggers progressive degeneration of the brain tissue, specifically the build-up of an abnormal protein called tau. These changes in the brain can begin months, years, or even decades after the last brain trauma or end of active athletic involvement."

Brain degeneration can cause: 

  • memory loss
  • confusion
  • impaired judgment
  • impulse control problems
  • aggression
  • depression
  • progression dementia (eventually)

CTE can only be diagnosed after death. Dave Duerson suffered 10 known concussions during his career. His playing career ended in 1993. He complained of memory loss and erratic behaviours. According to Ann McKee, the neuropathologist who conducted the analysis of Duerson's brain and co-director of the Boston University School of Medicine Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy:

"Dave Duerson had classic pathology of CTE and no evidence of any other disease...He had severe involvement of areas that control judgment, inhibition, impulse control, mood and memory."

The Boston University Center has now studied the brains of 15 deceased NFL players, and all but one had CTE. A article, "Dave Deurson's Suicide Raises Awareness of Brain Injuries" features statements by Chris Nowinski, co-director of Boston University's Brain Research Center: Nowinski mentions that Boston University researchers found early evidence of CTE in an 18 year old who only played football through high school. At least two college players who committed suicide in April 2011 at age 21 showed signs of CTE.

"What Dave Duerson's death means is that we've got a lot of people out there suffering silently...The reality is, if they have this disease, we're not sure what they're going to do next." - Chris Nowinski

The article also featured remarks from, Kyle Turley, formerly of the New Orleans Saints, St. Louis Rams and Kansas City Chiefs suffered multiple concussions in his 8 year NFL career. He too contemplated suicide. He takes medication to control his moods. He had this to say:

"We all see it..Just being down there at this year's Super Bowl and looking those former players in the eyes, it was a sobering experience. They all had the same look. It says, 'Only we know what is happening to us.' It's a scary thing."

Dave Duerson told his ex-wife that he was suffering from short-term memory loss, blurred vision and pain on the left side of his brain. Did he fear what was happening to him? (He took precautions to make sure his brain was intact at the time of his death). Did he know what was happening to him? We will never know. We only know he wanted his brain donated as part of a research project and now we know he suffered from the fateful disease, chronic traumatic encephalopathy.


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