Former Super Bowl champ commits suicide, asks for brain testing

According to family members, the former defensive back for the Chicago Bears sent a text message before his suicide requesting that his brain matter be tested for a degenerative brain disease. Dave Duerson committed suicide last week in his Miami home after shooting himself in the chest. Now his brain will be tested for chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

The 50-year-old former NFL star believed that he had suffered from a serious brain injury, and family members noted that he had changed within the last few months. His ex-wife stated that he recently began experiencing blurred vision and was having trouble with spelling and forming words. Duerson was active with the players union and his involvement with football after his playing career also made him very aware of the long-term damage serious blows to the head can cause in football players.

CTE has been associated with repeated head trauma. The repeated head trauma can cause a protein in a brain cell to become toxic. The toxic protein then begins to prevent the brain cell’s ability to function normally and spreads to other brain cells. When a significant amount of cells have been damaged, individuals then begin to experience symptoms of the brain injury.

The co-director at the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at Boston University School of Medicine said, “Essentially, your brain actually starts falling apart because you’ve been hit in the head and 10 to 20 years later you start getting symptoms.” Some of the symptoms include: memory loss, dementia, depression and an inability to control impulses.

Because the disease is linked to repeated trauma to the head, football players are especially at risk. According to studies, football players receive about 1,000 hits to the head during their lifetime of playing football. As we have mentioned in previous posts, the NFL has enforced tighter rules regarding when players can return to the field after suffering a hard hit to the head. In August 2010, locker rooms even put up posters to remind players of the serious effects of brain injuries.

According to the New York Times, Duerson is the first NFL player who has requested that his brain be studied for the disease. The football star’s ex-wife stated that Duerson’s request reflects his concern for others and his desire to help other football players who may be suffering from the same disease.

Source:ABC News: “Former Chicago Bear Requested Brain Testing Before Suicide,” Sharyn Alfonsi, Maggy Patrick, John Gever and Todd Neale, 21 Feb. 2011