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Duerson Found to Have the Brain Trauma He Suspected
From the New York Times:
May 2, 2011
The suicide of the former Chicago Bears star Dave Duerson became more alarming Monday morning, when Boston University researchers announced that Duerson’s brain had developed the same trauma-induced disease recently found in more than 20 deceased players.
The diagnosis adds a new and perhaps pivotal chapter to football’s still-unfolding narrative surrounding concussions. Duerson shot himself Feb. 17 in the chest rather than the head so that his brain could be examined by Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, which announced its diagnosis Monday morning in Boston.
About two dozen retired N.F.L. players have been found to have the disease, known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, but none acted upon his own suspicion of it like Duerson, 50, who privately complained of his deteriorating mental state during his final months.
His death immediately reminded the football community that for all the reform in the management of concussions and other on-field brain trauma in recent years, the damage to past players remains hauntingly irreversible.
Although the precise motivations behind Duerson’s suicide remain unknown, he had complained of headaches, blurred vision and a deteriorating memory in the months before his death. His final note to his family finished with a handwritten request: “Please, see that my brain is given to the N.F.L.’s brain bank.”
The N.F.L. does not run the Boston University research group but did donate $1 million to its financing in late 2009, after the league acknowledged long-term effects of football brain trauma. C.T.E., a condition previously associated mostly with boxers and manifested in behavior commonly known as punch-drunk syndrome, is a degenerative and incurable disease that kills neurons and is linked to memory loss, depression and dementia. Although in vivo tests are being pursued at Boston University and elsewhere, the condition can be detected only after death by brain autopsy.
Duerson’s death rattled players both active and retired, who after years of news media coverage now understand that the damage already done to their brains could be permanent.
“We have to do everything in our power to not just make progressive changes to minimize risk of C.T.E. in active players, but make sure there’s intervention strategies for those who are exhibiting early signs and symptoms, so that they have access to the services they need,” said Sean Morey, who retired as a player because of post-concussion syndrome last year and since has helped lead the players union’s pursuit of reform.
Morey added: “We have to advocate for the former players who are experiencing cognitive decline and early-onset dementia. Their wives did not sign up to become full-time caregivers. We should adopt a model like the military’s — you break them, you own them. If we can’t find the money to take care of the guys who built our game into a $9 billion industry, then shame on us.”
Duerson was an all-American defensive back at Notre Dame before spending most of his 11 N.F.L. seasons with the Chicago Bears. He was part of the famed 46 defense that powered the Bears’ Super Bowl championship after the 1985 season, and won the 1991 Super Bowl with the Giants. He retired after 1993 and became quite successful in the food-services industry before his businesses collapsed in the past several years.
Duerson’s case is unique beyond the circumstances of his suicide.
Since 2006 he had served on the six-member panel that considered claims for disability benefits filed by former N.F.L. players.
Although individual votes are kept closely confidential, that board has been notoriously sparing in awarding benefits, including those for neurological damage. Duerson himself told a Senate subcommittee in 2007 that he questioned whether players’ cognitive and emotional struggles were related to football.