If it weren’t for his suicide, we’d never know Aaron Hernandez had severe brain damage: Arthur
|Toronto Star 22 Sep 2017 at 12:39|
If Aaron Hernandez had not hung himself in prison , we’d never know. He could have spent the rest of his natural life behind bars, getting in brawls, getting caught with shivs, clashing with prison guards, all in the theoretical, walled, unknowable world of prison. He was doing those things already. It would have made sense, if you didn’t dig deep enough.
But he hung himself, and now Boston University’s CTE research centre has determined the former New England Patriots tight end and convicted murderer had Stage 3 CTE , or chronic traumatic encephalopathy. There are only four stages. His lawyer, Jose Baez, said the brain damage was most comparable to the average of a 67-year-old former football player with CTE. Hernandez, of course, stopped playing when he was 23.
So now comes the unknowable calculations. Hernandez’s family is suing the NFL and the Patriots, but who knows where that goes? Hernandez played 28 high school games as a star — Yahoo’s Dan Wetzel, who reported on the Hernandez trial, cited sources that said Hernandez suffered several concussions there — and then 40 college games, and 44 NFL games in three seasons. In pro football terms, that’s hardly anything.
CTE is just one of the neurological diseases which can be caused by football — in its class-action settlement with NFL players, the league itself estimates that nearly one in three players would suffer from early-onset neurological diseases “at notably younger ages than the general population.” But it essentially melts the brain, and causes unpredictable behaviour. The lawsuit will presumably argue that Hernandez’s criminal acts were triggered by the CTE. Good luck proving it. Things probably aren’t that simple.
He was accounted to be a kind and thoughtful young man, but also one who was a social chameleon, matching his environment. . He had trouble accepting the death of his father. The Boston Globe reported that one NFL pre-draft scouting report said, “Self-esteem is quite low; not well-adjusted emotionally, not happy, moods unpredictable, not stable, doesn’t take much to set him off, but not an especially jumpy guy.”
So where was the line? What made him allegedly kill two men over a spilled drink in a club, and kill Odin Lloyd over a vague lack of trust? What caused the fights in college? How much did he change? What caused it? A court of law will presumably pretend to decide.
But the real importance of the revelation is simple. Hernandez played three seasons in a league where the average career as of 2016 was estimated by the Wall Street Journal as three years and one month, and his brain was loaded with tau protein that strangled neurons and blood cells.
There are 855 active players, excluding punters and kickers, who have played at least 40 games. Every brain is different: boxer Jake LaMotta just died at age 95 after 112 professional fights, and he was engaged to what would have been his seventh wife. Some brains handle contact better. And while every reputable study seems to point to repetitive head contact is what causes CTE — not drugs, which some people keep saying — we have not been able to test for CTE while the patient is alive. There is a . It could change a lot of things. Maybe it will.
It seems inevitable that people will overestimate the impact of Hernandez the way they overestimated the impact of Mike Webster, Dave Duerson, Ray Easterling, Andre Waters, Junior Seau, Jovan Belcher and everyone else. Or, among the living, of Kyle Turley, Jim McMahon, Darryl Talley, Chris Henry, Kevin Turner, Antwaan Randle El and all the others. Over a third of the league’s approximately 12,000 retired players joined that class-action lawsuit, and no single story changes the debate, moves the yardsticks, because football doesn’t stop. The debate in the first two weeks of the season was over how poor the quality of play was, and that was true: Thursday night’s Rams-49ers game stood out like a single bright yellow car in a field of rusted hulks.
But the real threat to football is the accumulation of bodies, and what has been done to them. And while every brain is different, we now have a former NFL player who had advanced CTE at 23, because he hung himself, because he was a murderer, for whatever reason. Add him to the top of a mountainous, dire and growing pile.
Last week this space went 7-9. One problem with this column is it isn’t really a picks column so much as an excuse to write about the NFL and make stupid jokes. And sometimes it gets dark, and then it’s on to the tap shoes and spinning bowtie and bad picks. It can be awkward as hell, but at times like these it also illuminates the cognitive dissonance of how the league works in real life, more or less. Concussions, yes, and tragic human consequences, but hey, gambling.