Dave Duerson Found to Have the Brain Trauma He Suspected

The diagnosis adds a new and perhaps pivotal chapter to football’s still-unfolding narrative surrounding concussions.  in the chest rather than the head, presumably so that his brain could be examined by Boston University’s , which announced its diagnosis.

About two dozen retired players have been found to have the disease, known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, but none acted upon his suspicion of it like Duerson, 50, who complained to family of his deteriorating mental state during his final months.

His death reminded the football community that for all the reform in the management of concussions and other on-field brain trauma in recent years, the damage to past players remains a vestige of the game’s more brutal times.

“It’s tragic that Dave Duerson took his own life, but it’s very meaningful that he recognized the symptoms of the disorder — it validates this condition,” said Dr. Ann McKee, the neuropathologist who examined Duerson’s brain. She said she found indisputable evidence of C.T.E. in the tissue samples, with “no evidence of any other disorder.”

Although the precise motivations behind Duerson’s suicide remain unknown, he had complained of headaches, blurred vision and a deteriorating memory in the months before his death.   finished with a handwritten request: “Please, see that my brain is given to the N.F.L.’s brain bank.”

The N.F.L. does not run the Boston University research group but did  last year, after the league acknowledged long-term effects of football brain trauma.

C.T.E., a condition previously associated mostly with boxers and manifested in behavior more commonly known as dementia pugilistica, is a degenerative and incurable disease that compromises neural activity and is linked to memory loss, depression and dementia. Although groups at Boston University and elsewhere are pursuing tests for living patients, the condition can currently be detected only after death, by brain autopsy.

“We hope these findings will contribute more to the understanding of C.T.E.,” the N.F.L. said in a statement. “Our Head, Neck and Spine Medical Committee will study today’s findings, and as a league, we will continue to support the work of the scientists at the Boston University Center and elsewhere to address this issue in a forthright and effective way.”

DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the players association, said in a telephone interview that Duerson’s having C.T.E. “makes it abundantly clear what the cost of football is for the men who played and the families.”

He added: “It seems to me that any decision or course of action that doesn’t recognize that as the truth is not only perpetuating a lie, but doing a disservice to what Dave feared and what he wanted to result from the donation of his brain to science.”

 both active and retired, who after years of news media coverage are more aware that the damage done to their brains could be permanent. Pete Kendall, a recently retired offensive lineman, said, “The whole issue of C.T.E. is something that players young and old have no choice but to think about.”

Duerson’s former wife, Alicia, attended the Boston news conference with their four children. Their son Tregg, 25, made a brief statement, saying, “It is our hope that through this research questions that go beyond our interest may be answered — questions that lead to a safer game of football from professionals to Pop Warner.”

He added with regard to his father, “It is my greatest hope that his death will not be in vain and that through this research, his legacy will live on and others won’t have to suffer in the same manner.”

Duerson was an all-American defensive back at Notre Dame before spending most of his 11 N.F.L. seasons with the Bears. He played safety on the famed 46 defense that fueled their championship in the 1985 season, and he won the 1991 Super Bowl with the Giants.

Duerson retired after the 1993 season and became successful in the food-services industry before his businesses collapsed, his marriage failed and he went bankrupt. He began showing symptoms of repetitive brain trauma, including memory loss, poor impulse control and abusive behavior toward loved ones.

Another son, Brock, 22, said that the diagnosis of C.T.E. provided an explanation for his father’s decline and final act.

“I don’t want people to think just because he was in debt and broke he wanted to end it,” he said. “C.T.E. took his life. He changed dramatically, but it was eating at his brain. He didn’t know how to fight it.”

Duerson’s case is unique beyond the circumstances of his suicide. Since 2006, he had served on the six-member panel that considered claims for disability benefits filed by former N.F.L. players. Although individual votes are kept confidential, that board has been sparing in awarding benefits, including those for neurological damage.

Duerson himself told a Senate subcommittee in 2007 that he questioned whether players’ cognitive and emotional struggles were related to football.

However, Duerson’s legacy will almost certainly be how he apparently came to believe he had C.T.E., acted upon it and requested that his brain tissue be examined for confirmation and contribution to science.

Dr. Robert Stern, along with McKee a co-director of the Boston University research group, cautioned that C.T.E. could not explain all of a player’s actions.

“When it comes to suicide and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, it is possible that in some individuals the combination of C.T.E.-related symptoms of poor impulse control, depression and cognitive impairment may indeed lead to suicide,” Stern said. “However, we can never clearly point to any cause-and-effect relationship in any one case.”

Duerson Found to Have the Brain Trauma He Suspected

The diagnosis adds a new and perhaps pivotal chapter to football’s still-unfolding narrative surrounding concussions. in the chest rather than the head so that his brain could be examined by Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, which announced its diagnosis Monday morning in Boston.

About two dozen retired players have been found to have the disease, known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, but none acted upon his own suspicion of it like Duerson, 50, who privately complained of his deteriorating mental state during his final months.

His death immediately reminded the football community that for all the reform in the management of concussions and other on-field brain trauma in recent years, the damage to past players remains hauntingly irreversible.

Although the precise motivations behind Duerson’s suicide remain unknown, he had complained of headaches, blurred vision and a deteriorating memory in the months before his death. finished with a handwritten request: “Please, see that my brain is given to the N.F.L.’s brain bank.”

The N.F.L. does not run the Boston University research group but did in late 2009, after the league acknowledged long-term effects of football brain trauma. C.T.E., a condition previously associated mostly with boxers and manifested in behavior commonly known as punch-drunk syndrome, is a degenerative and incurable disease that kills neurons and is linked to memory loss, depression and dementia. Although in vivo tests are being pursued at Boston University and elsewhere, the condition can be detected only after death by brain autopsy.

both active and retired, who after years of news media coverage now understand that the damage already done to their brains could be permanent.

“We have to do everything in our power to not just make progressive changes to minimize risk of C.T.E. in active players, but make sure there’s intervention strategies for those who are exhibiting early signs and symptoms, so that they have access to the services they need,” said Sean Morey, who retired as a player because of post-concussion syndrome last year and since has helped lead the players union’s pursuit of reform.

Morey added: “We have to advocate for the former players who are experiencing cognitive decline and early-onset dementia. Their wives did not sign up to become full-time caregivers. We should adopt a model like the military’s — you break them, you own them. If we can’t find the money to take care of the guys who built our game into a $9 billion industry, then shame on us.”

Duerson was an all-American defensive back at Notre Dame before spending most of his 11 N.F.L. seasons with the Chicago Bears. He was part of the famed 46 defense that powered the Bears’ championship after the 1985 season, and won the 1991 Super Bowl with the Giants. He retired after 1993 and became quite successful in the food-services industry before his businesses collapsed in the past several years.

Duerson’s case is unique beyond the circumstances of his suicide.

Since 2006 he had served on the six-member panel that considered claims for disability benefits filed by former N.F.L. players.

Although individual votes are kept closely confidential, that board has been notoriously sparing in awarding benefits, including those for neurological damage. Duerson himself told a Senate subcommittee in 2007 that he questioned whether players’ cognitive and emotional struggles were related to football.

Before Shooting Himself, Duerson Asked That His Brain Be Studied

As a longtime force in the players union, Duerson, 50, was keenly aware of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the degenerative brain disease linked to depression, dementia and occasionally suicide among more than a dozen deceased players. He had expressed concern in recent months that he might have had the condition, said one person close to him who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Duerson family got in touch with representatives of ’s , said Dr. Robert Stern, a co-director of the research group. Stern declined to comment further on Duerson’s specific case because of policies about confidentiality.

“This is a tragic event,” Stern said. “His wish will hopefully lead to additional scientific answers about this disease.”

Duerson’s request to have his brain examined for C.T.E., first reported by The Chicago Tribune, indicates how much acceptance of the disease has changed since it first made headlines in January 2007. That month, it was of the former player Andre Waters, who also had committed suicide.

Doctors, N.F.L. officials and even many players denied or discredited the links between football and such brain damage for months or even years. The roughly 20 cases of C.T.E. that have been identified by groups at Boston University and were almost always men who had died — most with significant emotional or cognitive problems — with no knowledge of the disease. Now, for the first time he knows of, Stern said, a former player has killed himself with the specific request that his brain be examined.

George Atallah, a union spokesman who knew Duerson well, said that active and retired players had become increasingly aware of, and occasionally quite concerned about, the prospect that they would develop C.T.E. or other issues regarding brain activity. He said some players had called the union’s office in Washington since Duerson’s death wanting to learn more about the condition.

“This thing has the whole union community pretty shaken up,” Atallah said in a telephone interview Saturday night. “The increased awareness around the long-term impact of head trauma on men that played football has been a constant subject of conversation among the players.”

It typically takes several months for the Boston University group to conclude an examination, which involves staining the tissue for abnormal protein deposits in various sections of the brain. The process cannot be conducted on a living person.

Duerson was a four-time Pro Bowl safety, primarily for the Bears. He helped the 1985 team win the as a member of its famed 46 defense, and was a member of the Giants team that won the Super Bowl five years later.

Duerson earned an economics degree from Notre Dame, and in 2001, he graduated from a Harvard Business School program. After many years in private business, he had spent the last several years as one of the union’s three representatives on the board that rules on retired players’ disability claims.

Often deadlocked 3-3 — evenly split among representatives of management and labor — that board has been criticized for denying the claims of players asserting cognitive decline caused by football. Specific votes are not made public.

Now, at Duerson’s request, his brain may contribute to knowledge of how — and how many — football players are at risk for C.T.E. Thirteen of the 14 deceased N.F.L. players who have been examined for the disease by the Boston University researchers have been found to have it, although that rate is skewed by the fact that many died in part through acts linked to the disease itself, like suicide, drug abuse or mental breakdown.

There also is a question as to whether the disease derives from a career in pro football or simply from many years of playing football at any level. Last year, C.T.E. was found in the brain of Owen Thomas, a who killed himself in April.