Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is an ongoing issue in the NFL. CTE is defined as a neurodegenerative disease of the brain that occurs as a result of repeated head trauma. It's a common complication in sports that require a heavy amount of violent physical contact, so NFL players are clearly classified as high-risk individuals for CTE.
Concussions can further increase a player’s chances of later being diagnosed with CTE, especially players that suffer multiple concussions during their careers, but they aren't a requirement to develop CTE. All NFL players are potentially at risk because it's the result of repeated head trauma, which is almost unavoidable for professional football players due to the nature of the way the game is played.
One of the challenges the NFL faces with CTE is that while there are many synoroms associated with the condition, it's currently impossible to diagnose it until after death, due to the process in which the brain must be analyzed. Some of the major symptoms and indicators include severe mood swings and irrationally aggressive responses, but an official diagnosis can't be made to a living person.
This complicated battle is an ongoing one, but several NFL stars have tragically passed away at a young age, often under unusual circumstances, only to later be diagnosed with CTE, contributing to their early death. Here are three unfortunate examples.
#1 - Aaron Hernandez
The Aaron Hernandez story is a complicated one. He spent just three years with the New England Patriots before his issues off the field caught up with him. He was involved in many different legal situations throughout the course of his life, but most notably, he was charged with first-degree murder in the death of Odin Lloyd. He was sentenced to life in prison after being found guilty.
At just 27 years old, Hernandez took his own life, committing suicide in his jail cell while serving his life sentence. He was later diagnosed with an advanced case of CTE that may have been affecting his behavior for years.
#2 - Demaryius Thomas
Demaryius Thomas was just 31-years-old when he retired from his NFL career, which he spent mostly with the Denver Broncos, including winning a Super Bowl ring. Shortly after his early retirement from the NFL, Thomas was in a serious car accident, resulting in several physical complications that required surgery.
Two years later, at just 33-years-old, Thomas was found dead in his home. He reportedly suffered a seizure, which was initially thought to be a result of the complications suffered during the devastating car accident. It was later discovered in an autopsy that he suffered from CTE, which likely caused the seizure.
#3 - Junior Seau
Junior Seau is honored in the Pro Football Hall of Fame for his impressive NFL career with the San Diego Chargers, Miami Dolphins, and New England Patriots. Several years after his retirement, at just 43-years-old, his life ended in tragedy.
Seau was found dead in his home with a fatal gunshot wound to his chest. While he left no note behind, his death was suspected to be a suicide following a crime scene investigation. About a year later, it was officially released that Seau was suffering from CTE after his brain was examined.