Convicted murderer and former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, who was 27 when he committed suicide in April, suffered from a case of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) so severe that it was on par with cases observed in the brains of players in their 60s, according to the findings Dr. Anne McKee, Director of Boston University’s CTE Center.
CTE progresses as its victims progress in age, but the exponential development of Hernandez’s disease is unprecedented.
Thursday, the New York Times notes, a lawyer for Hernandez’s estate called Hernandez’s disease “the most severe case they [the researchers] had ever seen in someone of Aaron’s age.”
The Times calls the slides from the scan of Hernandez’s brain “unambiguous and graphic.” They show hallmarks of CTE, including “severe deposition of tau protein in the frontal lobes of the brain,” and buildups of tau protein “in nerve cells and around small blood vessels,” according to the statement from BU’s CTE center.
Hernandez’s estate is suing the NFL and the Patriots in an effort to win compensation for the distress Hernandez’s death and absence has inflicted upon his four-year-old daughter. The family is also considering taking legal action against the NCAA and the University of Florida, where Hernandez played college football from 2007-2009.
Symptoms of CTE include dementia, mood swings, judgement lapses, disorganization, aggressiveness and impulsivity.
Still, researchers have not identified a link between violence and CTE.
Hernandez, though, allegedly has a history of violent and erratic behavior.
He was convicted of the 2013 murder of his friend Odin Lloyd, and was subsequently accused of two prior killings that took place in 2012. He was acquitted in the last two cases.
Days later, he was found dead in his prison cell, tied to the window with a bed sheet. Investigators concluded that he had hung himself.
Former Chargers linebacker Junior Seau, who shot himself in the heart in 2002, also suffered from CTE, brain scans conducted more than a decade after his death showed.
McKee also identified “early brain atrophy and large perforations in the septum pellucidum, a central membrane” in Hernandez’s sample. Neither is typically associated with CTE, BU’s statement implies.
Citing anonymous sources “close to Hernandez,” a cover story Rolling Stone magazine ran in a September 12, 2013 issue indicates that Hernandez was heavily involved in the use of drugs, including PCP, the chronic use of which is linked to brain damage.
Many symptoms associated with CTE, including memory loss, depression, cognitive impairment and personality disorders, are linked to PCP use as well.
At the same time, many have theorized that in robbing its victims of their impulse control, CTE leaves them susceptible to drug abuse and addiction.
So, it is difficult to tell where the one disease ends and the other begins. It seems the diseases feed off one another: CTE leads to drug abuse, and drug abuse exacerbates the symptoms of CTE.
A report published by McKee and three other authors says of the overlaps between drug use and CTE: “Comorbidities [i.e. coexisting maladies] such as alcohol abuse or dependence, recreational drug use, and performance enhancing drug use can all lead to personality changes and neuropsychiatric difficulties. A non-negligible portion of individuals with neuropathologically confirmed CTE have had reported substance abuse. However, there are neuropathologically confirmed cases of CTE without a history of any of these afflictions, indicating that they are not causative factors.”
Aaron Hernandez signed a $40 million contract with the Patriots in 2012.
“Now that it happened,” he said after inking the deal, “it’s definitely a blessing, and take it in, I’m excited to go on with my life.”
Ten months later, Lloyd’s body was discovered. Soon after that, Hernandez was convicted of the murder of his friend. Later, he, he murdered himself.
The “blessing” of the contract seems to have been mixed with more than a tinge of a curse.