Junior Seau Had Brain Disease Prior to Suicide

The former Patriots linebacker and 20 year NFL veteran found to have degenerative brain disease at the time of his death.

Brain image via Shutterstock

The Associated Press (AP) reported today that Junior Seau, the celebrated NFL player and former Patriots linebacker who committed suicide last May, had the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) at the time of his death, according to a National Institutes of Health (NIH) study. The AP reported that:

‘The brain was independently evaluated by multiple experts, in a blind fashion,’’ said Dr. Russell Lonser, who oversaw the study. ‘‘We had the opportunity to get multiple experts involved in a way they wouldn’t be able to directly identify his tissue even if they knew he was one of the individuals studied.’’

CTE, a condition stemming from repetitive brain trauma like concussions, is often linked to, among other things, depression, aggression, impaired judgment, and eventual dementia. According to the AP report, those close to the late Seau attributed his erratic behavior—like mood swings, irrationality, forgetfulness, insomnia, and depression—to CTE:

‘‘I was not surprised after learning a little about CTE that he had it,’’ Seau’s 23-year-old son Tyler said. ‘‘He did play so many years at that level. I was more just kind of angry I didn’t do something more and have the awareness to help him more, and now it is too late.

‘‘I don’t think any of us were aware of the side effects that could be going on with head trauma until he passed away. We didn’t know his behavior was from head trauma.’’

Seau, who played 20 seasons in San Diego, Miami, and here in New England, is one of many football players who have suffered from the disorder. In fact, we reported on Boston University’s research linking CTE to athletes in November 2010, and again on a later BU study that found evidence of CTE in the brains of 33 former NFL players, as well as in six high school football players, nine college football players, seven professional boxers, and four NHL players.

As CTE gains more recognition, players and NFL officials are taking action, the Associated Press reported. The NFL donated $30 million to the NIH for research, and thousands of former players—as well as Mary Ann Easterling, whose late husband, former Falcons safety Ray Easterling, is believed to have killed himself as a result of CTE last year—are suing the league for allegedly withholding information about the consequences of head injuries.

Seau’s ex-wife Gina told the Associated Press she hopes the discovery of Seau’s disease will help CTE be taken seriously:

‘‘It was important to us to get to the bottom of this, the truth,’’ Gina Seau said, ‘‘and now that it has been conclusively determined from every expert that he had obviously had it, CTE, we just hope it is taken more seriously.

‘‘You can’t deny it exists, and it is hard to deny there is a link between head trauma and CTE. There’s such strong evidence correlating head trauma and collisions and CTE.’’