NFL Great Ken Stabler Had Brain Disease CTE, BU Says

The former quarterback had signs of relatively severe disease.
Ken Stabler brain disease

Photo via AP

Boston University researchers have posthumously diagnosed another NFL player, quarterback Ken Stabler, with the degenerative brain disease CTE.

Stabler died of colon cancer last summer, but donated his brain to science in an effort to understand the cognitive problems he faced during the last years of his life. According to BU researchers, his brain showed tell-tale signs of relatively severe CTE, an assessment they are reaching ever-more frequently.

BU has found signs of CTE, a condition associated with repeated head trauma, in the brains of almost every former NFL player it has examined, 90 out of 94. Stabler is the seventh quarterback to show evidence of CTE-related brain damage. “It may be surprising since he was a quarterback, but certainly the lesions were widespread, and they were quite severe, affecting many regions of the brain,” lead examiner Ann McKee told the New York Times.

As CTE diagnoses become more common, researchers are making stronger efforts to understand and avoid concussions. In December, the National Institutes of Health awarded BU $16 million to study CTE—an announcement that came with no mention of the NFL, despite an earlier gift from the league. As part of that study, BU hopes to find diagnostic techniques that can be used before an athlete’s death.


Jamie Ducharme Jamie Ducharme, Contributor jducharme@bostonmagazine.com