Former NFL quarterback Ken Stabler had high Stage 3 chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE, the degenerative brain disease believed to be caused by repeated blows to the head.
According to a report in The New York Times, after Stabler died on July 8 from colon cancer at age 69, his brain was removed during autopsy and taken to scientists in Boston University. After dissecting it for clues over several months, as Stabler wished, they determined he had CTE. Stabler wanted to find out why his mind seemed to slip in his final years.
Scientists said Stabler had a “moderately severe disease,” which is typical for football players. They said the lesions were widespread and severe, affecting many regions of the brain. This is intriguing because quarterbacks are typically provided more protection from hits than most football players. But what Stabler’s diagnosis suggests is that no position in football, perhaps the kicker, is immune from progressive brain damage linked to hits to the head.
Stabler is apparently the seventh former NFL quarterback to get this diagnosis after death. CTE can only be diagnosed after an individual is deceased. Tyler Sash who died at 27 in September was also recently diagnosed with CTE as was Super Bowl quarterback Earl Morrall who died at 79. Hall of Famer Frank Gifford was also diagnosed with CTE when he passed last year. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy is a degenerative disease of the brain found most commonly in boxers and football players, caused by repetitive trauma to the head.
This trauma triggers progressive degeneration of the brain tissue including the build-up of an abnormal protein called tau. These changes in the brain can begin months, years or even decades after the last brain trauma or end of an individual’s athletic career. The brain degeneration caused by CTE has been associated with memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control, aggression, depression and dementia. Scientists have yet to understand why some football players get CTE and others don’t.
The NFL and CTE
For decades, the NFL has refuted research by experts that connected brain trauma to long-term cognitive impairment. Only recently has the league begun to publicly acknowledge that it has a problem. Last year the NFL agreed to pay $1 billion to families of players. But, as California brain injury attorneys, we believe that there needs to be a systemic change in the NFL to ensure that our current and future stars don’t suffer the same bitter end as those like Ken Stabler and Junior Seau.