The Boston University School of Medicine where the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy is located has reported that former NFL player Shane Dronett who shot himself in 2009 suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Dronett took his own life in his home shooting himself three years after he retired from the NFL at the age of 38.
Dronett is the latest player that donated his brain to the study to be diagnosed with CTE. Additionally, the Sports Legacy Institute has said that 17 of the 18 players studied at the Center have shown CTE. While Dronett also had a brain tumor in 2007, the Center said that there was no way to know for sure if it was the tumor or the surgery for the tumor or the CTE that caused his eventual death, but that CTE definitely contributed.
CTE is a degenerative brain disease that results in behaviors similar to Alzheimer’s disease. The disease is characterized by a number of neurological and physiological changes in the brain including the buildup of an abnormal protein called tau. This protein builds up in places in the brain where it is not supposed to be and congregates in clumps in and around the brain disrupting its function.
Most individuals affected with CTE go through three stages. Stage one shows affective disturbances and psychotic symptoms. Stage two shows social instability, erratic behavior, memory loss, and the initial symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. The final stage consists of a progressive deterioration to dementia.
While Dronett may have had contributing factors, the fact that he did suffer from CTE definitely has to be considered as one of them. Unfortunately, there is no way to diagnose a player while he is still alive. Hopefully, continued study can offer some answers and result in changes to both play and equipment to try and prevent this injury as much as possible. Given that contact sports athletes are still going to be making contact, the elimination of blows to the head will not be possible. Perhaps though stricter guidelines on concussions and returning to play can reduce the number of repetitive concussions that players receive.