Dave Duerson, Former NFL Safety Who Shot Himself, Had Brain Trauma

Illustration by Doug Fraser
Another startling indication of the potential prevalence of football-related brain degeneration came to light yesterday, as the disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) was diagnosed in the autopsied brain of deceased Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson.

The case of Duerson, who was profiled last week in our sister paper, the Miami New Times, had a special poignancy. Prior to shooting himself through the heart in February -- he was 50 -- Duerson had requested that his brain be analyzed postmortem to determine whether he might suffer from CTE, which is brought on by repeated head trauma.

The condition, which cannot be conclusively diagnosed in living people, mimics many of the symptoms of dementia, bringing memory loss, cognitive impairment, and violent, irrational outbursts.

In September, SF Weekly profiled another high-level football player, former USC and NFL offensive lineman Chris Brymer, who suffered many of the symptoms of CTE. Brymer, who had been a successful mortgage broker following his pro-football career, began to deteriorate mentally and emotionally in his early 30s and was arrested in San Francisco for starting a fight outside a soup kitchen.

The findings on Duerson, whose brain was studied at Boston University, will doubtless bring renewed attention to the hidden dangers of professional and college football. While the NFL has instituted severe penalties for violent tackles and stricter guidelines for dealing with concussions, scientists believe that it is routine, repetitive trauma over time -- rather than dramatic one-off hits -- that causes CTE.

And many experts say that these sorts of routine head hits are an integral part of football as we know it.

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