Yesterday, the BU CTE Center announced that doctors found an advanced form of chronic traumatic encephalopathy in the brain of a football player who died at 27. The fact that the brain was Aaron Hernandez‘s, a former Patriots star who was convicted of murder before committing suicide in his jail cell, made the discovery notable—but that’s not what makes it scary.
Neuropathologists identified brain atrophy (shrinking of the brain) and “large perforations” in addition to Stage 3 CTE. The news adds another twist to Hernandez’s story, but we’ll never know the role his brain chemistry played in his string of violent behavior, including the shooting of Odin Lloyd. What we do now know is that a player’s brain can deteriorate to such an extent after only three NFL seasons.
This had been established before, by a deceased 18-year-old, a 21-year-old Ivy League suicide victim, and a 25-year-old who had suffered 10 concussions, among others. But Hernandez is the first big name player to represent the fact that CTE is a crisis for modern football at all levels, not just a debilitating problem for pro vets of bygone eras. The NFL deserves scrutiny (and it’ll now face a lawsuit brought by Hernandez’s family), but Hernandez spent as many seasons at the University of Florida as he did with New England and likely incurred significant damage at the youth level back in Bristol, Conn., where he reportedly suffered multiple concussions.
Of course, his face is far from a sympathetic one; he won’t be seen as a martyr, nor should he. Instead, let his case stand as a terrifying reminder of how little we understand about a beloved game’s impact.
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LATER TODAY ON THE MMQB: Michael McKnight has a special report on Rams fans … Breer previews Sunday’s top five games … Andy Benoit shares 10 things … and more. Stay tuned.
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1. Rams 41, 49ers 39. The biggest storyline going into this game was whether fans would show up to Levi’s Stadium, but those in attendance were treated to the best game of the season. San Francisco nearly rallied from a 41-26 fourth-quarter deficit after Los Angeles fumbled a late kickoff, but it failed on a two-point conversion try. The Niners then collected an onside kick, but could do nothing with the extra possession, turning the ball over on downs after an Aaron Donald sack. In the win, Todd Gurley tallied 149 scrimmage yards and three touchdowns, while Jared Gofffinished with a 145.8 passer rating and three scores of his own.
3. Malcolm Jenkins, Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith and Michael Bennett sent a memo to the league office requesting that the NFL have November “serve as a month of Unity for individual teams to engage and impact the community in their market,” among other ideas.
4. Here’s a headline that made me double-take: In Pittsburgh, Mike Glennon Is Known As the ‘Steelers Killer’
5. Jerry McDonald has a surprisingly touching story about the mark left by late Raiders owner Al Davis on his final draft pick, upcoming Oakland opponentTerrelle Pryor. “It means the world to me,” Pryor said of being the legend’s final selection. “He was a special guy. I had a marvelous time during the time I spent talking to him. It was a short time, but I learned a lot about the game.”
6. Adam Kilgore spoke to coaches at all levels for a piece arguing, basically, that “the sport’s current developmental system creates exceptional college football players and unprepared NFL players.”
7. After firing OC Ken Zampese, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis told players that if the results don’t change, they will be the next to go.
8. Effortgate rolls on, as Ezekiel Elliott commented on his play Sunday: “I would say I was just very frustrated, but that’s no excuse for the lack of effort I showed on tape. I just can’t do that. Being one of the leaders on the team and being a guy that people count on, I can’t put that type of stuff on film.”
9. Falcons rookie defender Takk McKinley is racking up supporters with a combination of speed, power, and comedy.
10. Two weeks in, Las Vegas is buying the Matthew Stafford hype. He’s now a co-favorite for the MVP award, alongside Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers.
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