More NFL CTE Fallout?

Peter King at Sports Illustrated reported earlier today that researchers who run the NFL ‘Brain Bank’ at Boston University have requested that Junior Seau’s brain be donated for research on chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a serious degenerative brain disease. (The San Diego medical examiner confirmed today that Seau, 43, whose NFL career spanned 20 years, died Wednesday of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest.)

This event bears a striking similarity to NFL player Dave Duerson’s death last year, who apparently texted a message to his family asking that his brain be donated to the Boston University research center, before shooting himself in the chest. Several reports at the time indicated that Duerson had been struggling with several signs of CTE, which include poor memory and coordination, depression, and impulse control problems.

However, a USA Today article quotes Seau’s former teammates who were with him at a USC event last month, and they report that Seau was in good spirits. Unfortunately, impulse control problems can appear quite suddenly in CTE, which damages the frontal cortex areas of the brain responsible for conscious regulation and inhibition of emotional impulses – a University of Pennsylvania football player who abruptly committed suicide in 2010 showed signs of CTE in his autopsy.

At this point we need to wait for further information before determining the possibility of CTE contributing to Seau’s death. What is clear is that further research is needed on how brain injuries can develop into a terminal degenerative condition like CTE, which is now also showing up in soldiers and veterans, especially those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This latest event also adds to concerns about football programs at the high school and collegiate level. Most states have implemented sports concussion legislation, which include mandatory school sports concussion detection and management policies.