Aaron Hernandez’s CTE Is the Most Advanced Case Seen in Someone His Age

Researchers at Boston University found the former Patriots tight end suffered from a case so severe it reflected a brain 20 years older.

Aaron Hernandez

Photo via AP Photo/Steven Senne, Pool

Aaron Hernandez’s brain was dark, and it was decayed.

At a medical conference on Thursday, researchers from Boston University revealed the former Patriots tight end’s brain reflected the most advanced case of chronic traumatic encephalopathy ever found in someone his age. According to the Washington Post, the extent of the damage discovered in Hernandez’s 27-year-old brain has previously been found only in brains at least 46 years old. The neurodegenerative disease is associated with concussions.

 The post-mortem study of Hernandez’s brain revealed he had stage three (out of a possible four) CTE, with severe tissue loss and other evidence of head trauma, according to the Boston Herald. That he was so young with such an advanced case of the disease is indicative of a concerning broader trend. Dr. Ann McKee, the head of BU’s CTE Center, told the Post more accelerated CTE is being seen in younger athletes, though, “whether or not that’s because they’re playing more aggressively or if they’re starting at younger ages, we don’t know.”

Hernandez died in April while serving a life sentence in a Massachusetts prison for killing a friend, Odin Lloyd, in 2013. McKee said that though her research could not be used to directly explain Hernandez’s actions, “individuals with CTE, and CTE of this severity, have difficulty with impulse control, decision-making, inhibition of impulses for aggression, emotional volatility, [and] rage behaviors,” according to the Post.

BU confirmed Hernandez’s CTE diagnose in September. Hernandez’s former lawyer, Jose Baez, subsequently filed a federal lawsuit against the NFL and the Patriots, alleging the defendants failed to adequately protect Hernandez from the brain damage they knew he was at risk of incurring. Lawyers dropped and then refiled the case in state court in mid-October, according to the Boston Globe.

CTE has consistently been linked to the NFL and repeated head trauma, though BU researchers have had somewhat limited access to afflicted brains of Hernandez’s age. In July, McKee released the results of a study of the brains of 111 NFL players. The results: 110 of them had CTE.