On April 19, 2017, former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez took his own life at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Lanchester, Massachusetts. Hernandez was serving time in Massachusetts following his conviction for the murder of Odin Lloyd, the boyfriend of Hernandez’s former fiancée’s sister. Following the April suicide, the Hernandez family gave custody of Aaron Hernandez’s brain to sports concussion researchers at Boston University’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center in hopes of uncovering some answers.
According to concussionfoundation.org, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is a degenerative brain disease found in athletes, military veterans and others with a history of repetitive brain trauma. When a person has CTE, Tau, a protein, spreads through the victim’s brain, killing brain cells.
Boston Globe reported that Dr. Ann McKee, Director of the CTE Center at Boston University, was the professional in charge of conducting a neuropathological examination of Aaron Hernandez’s brain. In a statement released to the public by BU’s CTE Center just last week, it was revealed that Dr. McKee had uncovered findings of Stage 3 CTE (out of four stages) in Aaron Hernandez’s brain, along with early brain atrophy (loss of neurons) and “large” perforations in a central membrane.
The NFL’s injury reports reveal Aaron Hernandez was diagnosed with only one concussion during his professional career with the Patriots, but CTE in deceased athletes is more likely to be caused by less serious but more repetitive blows to the head.
Jose Baez, an attorney for the Hernandez family, is suing the National Football League and the Patriots team on behalf of Aaron Hernandez’s daughter following Boston University’s findings, reports Sports Illustrated. Baez announced that researchers had found “the most severe case (of CTE) they had ever seen in someone of Aaron’s age.” Aaron was 27 years old when he died.
The lawsuit states that Hernandez’s suicide (and possibly his violent behavior) was due to the succumbing to CTE’s symptoms.
“It’s possible,” said John Hamilton, a science correspondent for the National Public Radio, “but I think most scientists would be pretty cautious in making that link.”
Hamilton continues. “Of course, Aaron Hernandez had a history of violence that went back many years before his death, presumably before he had severe damage to his brain. There’s also one other thing that’s just a little bit odd. A jury found that Hernandez was guilty of a premeditated, execution-style killing. And that’s kind of the opposite of an impulsive act.”
Stage 3 of CTE is very severe; such a stage of the disease is usually found in individuals who pass away in their late sixties. However, the issue with CTE is that the disease is not able to be diagnosed unless the victim is already dead.
NFL spokesperson Joe Lockhart stated on Friday that the NFL plans to “contest the claims (found in the law suit) vigorously.”
The impending legal battle could get ugly for the Hernandez camp. According to USA Today Sports, because Aaron Hernandez chose to take a concussion settlement from the NFL following his injury in 2011, his family “gave up the right to sue NFL parties,” binding his daughter to the concussion settlement.