Junior Seau, the 12-time Pro Bowl linebacker who killed himself last year, suffered from the same debilitating brain disease diagnosed in at least two other former NFL defensive players who also committed suicide, a study released on Thursday said.
Seau, 43, died in May last year after shooting himself in the chest at his beachfront house in his hometown of Oceanside, California. He played mostly for the San Diego Chargers and two other teams in a 20-year career in the National Football League.
A study of Seau’s brain by a team of independent researchers found he suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, likely brought on by two decades of blows to the head as a football player, the report said.
CTE can be diagnosed only after death.
Tissue from his brain was sent to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for analysis in July, at the request of Seau’s family, amid growing concern over the long-term effects of football-related head injuries.
“The final diagnosis was findings consistent with chronic traumatic encephalopathy,” Russell Lonser, the lead researcher on the case, told reporters.
Lonser is chairman of the Department of Neurological Surgery at Ohio State University and led the study of Seau’s brain while he was at NIH.
Patients with CTE may display symptoms “such as impulsivity, forgetfulness, depression, [and] sometimes suicidal ideation,” Lonser said in the report
Five neuropathologists — two who work for the government and three who were independent and not informed they were examining Seau — came to a consensus on the diagnosis by studying the accumulation of a protein called tau in certain areas of the brain, Lonser said.
The distribution of tau discovered in Seau’s brain “is unique to CTE and distinguishes it from other brain disorders,” the NIH said in a statement about the study.
It was unclear what effect the study would have on a class action suit brought by several thousand former NFL players who claim the league has not done enough to protect players from brain injuries.
Just weeks before Seau shot himself, former Atlanta Falcons safety Ray Easterling committed suicide and family members described a long descent into dementia following his retirement from the NFL. An autopsy revealed indications of CTE.