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9 Football Players Killed By Brain Trauma

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7. Owen Thomas

Owen Thomas committed suicide at age 21, hanging himself after suffering from “emotional collapse.” The Penn University junior never complained of a concussion during his time playing football, though his family allowed that he may have chosen to ignore symptoms in order to stay on the field. Despite that, an autopsy showed clear signs of CTE — raising the concern that even hits that aren’t severe enough to cause concussions could still do long-term damage.

6. John Mackey

John Mackey was a Hall of Fame tight end for the Baltimore Colts and San Diego Chargers, and later served as the first head of the NFL Players Association, the league’s union. Mackey suffered from frontotemporal dementia, which made him confused, paranoid and angry. He ultimately entered an assisted-living facility at 65, and died at age 69. An autopsy of his brain showed clear evidence of CTE.

5. John Grimsley

When John Grimsley died of what was classified as an accidental gunshot wound in 2008, it wasn’t national news. The linebacker for the Houston Oilers and Miami Dolphins had a good career, making a Pro Bowl in 1988, and lasting in the league for ten seasons. He began exhibiting signs of dementia around the age of 40, including all the classic hallmarks of CTE. The diagnosis was confirmed post-mortem.

4. Lou Creekmur

Lou Creekmur lived to be 82, so one might think that his death, at least, can’t be attributed to brain trauma. Unfortunately, that death came after 30 years of cognitive decline, from memory loss to angry outbursts and aggression. The eight-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman for the Detroit Lions played from 1950 to 1959, famously breaking his nose 13 times in an era before facemasks were required.  A post-mortem autopsy showed Creekmur had full-blown CTE.

3. Ray Easterling

Ray Easterling played safety for the Atlanta Falcons from 1972 to 1979, and after retiring, suffered from a series of impairments, from a depression to a loss of memory and organization to difficulty relating to other people. In 2011, he joined other players in suing the NFL over concussion-related damage; in 2012, he shot himself. A study of his brain showed clear evidence of CTE.

2. Dave Duerson

Dave Duerson’s suicide may well be the point at which CTE could no longer be ignored. The safety for the Chicago Bears, New York Giants, and Phoenix Cardinals was a four-time Pro Bowler and two-time Super Bowl champion, and at one time held the record for sacks in a season by a defensive back. In retirement, Duerson was at one point successful in business, but over time grew despairing of his declining cognitive abilities. In 2011, Duerson committed suicide, shooting himself in the chest. In a text message to his family, he said he did so in order that his brain could be studied for CTE. Duerson’s suspicions were confirmed post-mortem. His method of suicide finally and compellingly drew national attention to the plight of players like himself.

1. Junior Seau

Junior Seau was a wildly popular linebacker for the San Diego Chargers, Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots. A 12-time Pro Bowler and near-certain future member of the Hall of Fame, Seau killed himself in May of 2012. Like Duerson, Seau shot himself in the chest, and while he did not leave a suicide note, the similarity was clear. The story of Seau’s decline is by now horribly familiar — his once-photographic memory was shattered, his ability to handle numbers gone, his temper suddenly sharp and violent. Like the other eight men on this list — and countless others — Seau suffered from CTE, confirmed by autopsy.

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11:24AM PDT on Apr 14, 2013

Thank you for sharing.

12:14AM PST on Feb 6, 2013

This country has an interest in some of the dumbest, most dangerous sports. Common sense tells you that if there is a HIGH risk of injury, you should probably avoid doing it.

9:35AM PST on Feb 5, 2013

Risk is inherent to living. We cannot and should not over protect. Football player have been dying since the game was invented. There are new treatments in the horizon. The military has been working on a allied track to prevent brain damage from IED's. Getting all those parties together is going to be the key.

4:31PM PST on Feb 4, 2013

It is sad that the U.S. is so obsessed with foot ball that we would rather players suffer from repeated concussions just so they can keep playing!

1:23PM PST on Feb 4, 2013

Pretty br00tal sport.

7:58AM PST on Feb 4, 2013


6:28AM PST on Feb 4, 2013

Thanks for sharing.

6:04AM PST on Feb 4, 2013

Thanks Jeff for the article. I just never understood why people would want to participate in contact sports considering the dangers involved.

8:05PM PST on Feb 3, 2013

@ Connie T lol!

11:00AM PST on Feb 3, 2013

All sports activity involves risks as does just living ones life. It's the risk one takes if they want to partake in the sports or partake in life! I nearly died from falling off a ladder cleaning the guttering out on our house. Be born and stay locked up in a little padded room and die from dementia!

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