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By Dara Bahk
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, otherwise known as CTE, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease. Initially, it was called dementia pugilistica, informally “punch-dunk”. This was because it was found primarily in boxers due to them receiving constant blows to the head.
However, in the early 2000’s Dr. Bennet Omalu began discovering it in the brains of former NFL athletes. As it is a brain injury, it can cause major damage to the individual, affecting how s/he perceives and analyzes the world around them.
The further advanced the disease, the further advanced the symptoms.
During the first stage, symptoms are still innocent– merely some disorientation and headaches. However, as it progresses, CTE can cause memory loss, changed and erratic behavior, poor judgement, dementia, vertigo, tremors, depression, escalated thoughts of suicide and so forth.
Though there are infected football players who were able to live a life without being affected too deeply, there are still many who have had their life taken away by it. It takes only a few years before it begins to manifest, but the degenerative disease can cause a depression, so rooted, that the only answer for them is to end their life.
When the players retired, all of their actions have been presumed to be their own, but CTE points that it may have been actually the disease talking. Here is a list of some players who have been diagnosed with CTE and may have only committed suicide as a result of it.
1. Terry Luther Long (July 21, 1959 – June 7, 2005)
Long was the first football player with CTE to commit suicide, dying in 2005 after drinking antifreeze. He was the offensive lineman for the Pittsburgh Steelers, playing for only a mere eight seasons. He was selected during the 1984 NFL Draft, and played from 1984-1991. His first attempt was at the end of his career when he tested positive for steroids on the NFL’s drug test. While doing Long’s autopsy, the Allegheny County medical examiner’s office discovered the presence of CTE.
2. Andre Waters (March 10, 1962 – November 20, 2006)
Despite being considered one of NFL’s “hardest-hitting defenders”, he only played from 1984-1995 for the Philadelphia Eagles and then the Arizona Cardinals. After 1 AM on November 20, 2006, Waters shot himself in the head and was later found by his girlfriend. His suicide seemed sudden and unexplained until Dr. Omalu examined his brain. He found out that 44-year-old Waters’s brain resembled that of a 90-year-old’s with Alzheimers. Based on the tissue alone, it was determined that Waters had been incapacitated within ten years previous and that the deterioration sustained led to Waters’s depression.
3. Shane Dronett (January 12, 1971 – January 21, 2009)
Dronett was the defensive lineman for the NFL teams, Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons, for only ten years (1992-2002). In 2003, due to several physical injuries, he was let go from the Falcons and would not get signed by anyone else. Three years following that, Dronett began demonstrating extreme paranoia followed by unexplained rage and fear. His behavior was thought to be due to his benign brain tumor but even after having it removed, his symptoms remained. On January 21, 2009, Dronnet pulled a gun on his wife but ended up discharging it on himself. Boston University’s School of Medicine’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy confirmed that Dronett had CTE.
4. David “Dave” Russell Duerson (November 28, 1960 – February 17, 2011)
Duerson was the safety for the Chicago Bears, New York Giants, and Phoenix Cardinals. He accomplished several achievements during his lifetime, from winning two championship rings to receiving the 1987 Walter Peyton NFL Man of the Year award. Still, he could not escape the depression. On February 17, 2011, Duerson was found in his Florida home with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Before his suicide, he texted his family that he wanted his brain donated for CTE research. After his family had done so, neurologists at Boston University’s School of Medicine corroborated Duerson’s suspicions.
5. Ray Easterling (September 3, 1949 – April 19, 2012)
Drafted in the 1972 NFL Draft, Easterling was a safety for the Atlanta Falcons for 8 seasons. In 2011, he and other NFL players filed a federal lawsuit against the NFL for mishandling and ignoring the issue of their head injuries. Unfortunately, a year later Easterling committed suicide, and the medical examiner at Richmond, Virginia, determined that CTE was present in Easterling and had accounted for many of his neurological predicaments. His wife has continued to fight for the lawsuit in her husband’s place.
6. Tiaina Baul “Junior” Seau Jr. (January 19, 1969 – May 2, 2012)
“Junior” Seau is considered a legendary linebacker, prominent for his “passionate playing style”. He was with the San Diego Chargers for 13 seasons until he was traded to the Miami Dolphins for 3 years. Due to a torn pectoral muscle, Seau was released in 2006. Afterwards, he signed with the New England Patriots and played for them on and off until finally announcing his retirement on January 2010. During his football career, Seau became a 10-time All-pro, 12-time Pro Bowl selection, named to the NFL 1990’s All-Decade team. Two years later, Seau was found dead by his girlfriend with a self-inflicted gunshot to the chest.