David Duerson, a 50-year-old former player for the Chicago Bears, fatally shot himself in the chest last week, leaving his family a message insisting that his brain be sent for scientific testing, reports Stephanie Smith for CNN. Duerson had been experiencing failing vision, difficulty forming coherent sentences, severe headaches, and depression – all problems that can be symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), Smith explains.
CTE is caused, as the name suggests, by repeated head trauma, the article reports, and is most commonly seen in professional athletes who suffer multiple concussions over the course of their careers. However, it cannot be definitively diagnosed until the brain is examined after death, when brain tissue can be seen to exhibit a form of damage called “brown tangles,” says CNN. Doctors at the Boston University School of Medicine Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy will examine Duerson’s neural tissue, the article explains, but a definitive diagnosis may not be available for months.
According to Smith, Duerson’s decision to shoot himself in the chest, in conjunction with his final note and the text message to his ex-wife, Alicia, that instructed her to give his brain to the NFL brain bank, has persuaded his family that he was trying to preserve his brain for examination. Alicia Duerson attests to cognitive problems dating back to her ex-husband’s days as a safety in the NFL, says CNN. Though he did not mention CTE specifically, the article explains, he expressed suspicions that his problems stemmed from damage to the left side of his brain.
Duerson’s death draws further attention to the problem of head injuries in contact sports, a topic that has been in the news recently. According to CNN, the NFL appears to be pursuing research into the issue. Smith quotes Dr. Richard Ellenbogen, co-chair of the NFL Head, Neck, and Spine Medical Committee, as saying, “We are taking this very seriously, and accelerating research on will help us get more insight.” The NFL has begun sharing its bank of donated brain tissue with outside researchers like those at Boston University in order to perform more detailed analyses, reports CNN.
Depression and suicidal thoughts are known symptoms of CTE, explains the article, and it is tragic to think that Duerson’s career in the NFL may have led to the taking of his own life. Smith reports that friends and family remain hopeful that studying Duerson’s brain will help others in his position. Alicia Duerson says, “It gives us a lot of comfort knowing that something positive and something great is going to come out of this for future players, for little leaguers, for everyone.”
Smith, Stephanie. (February 26, 2011). “What will happen to former NFL player’s brain?” Retrieved March 9, 2011 from CNN.