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.

N.F.L. Players Shaken by Duerson’s Suicide Calculation

Football’s ramifications so concerned the former Chicago Bear Dave Duerson that, after deciding to kill himself last Thursday, he shot himself in the chest, apparently so that his brain could remain intact for similar examination.

This intent, soon before his death, has injected a new degree of fear in the minds of many football players and their families, according to interviews with them Sunday. To this point, the roughly 20 veterans found to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy — several of whom committed suicide — died unaware of the disease clawing at their brains, how the protein deposits and damaged neurons contributed to their condition.

Duerson, 50, was the first player to die after implying that brain trauma experienced on the football field would be partly responsible for his death.

Retired and current players roundly noted on Sunday that they could not know what Duerson’s mind-set was and what other events in his life had contributed to his actions. Yet the gunshot from Duerson’s home in Sunny Isles Beach, Fla., and the final wishes for his brain shook players around the nation.

“Oh my God — he might have been aware of what was happening to himself?” the former Giants running back said when informed of the circumstances. After taking a moment to collect himself, Barber continued: “It feels like this was calculated and thought-out to some extent. It was almost with a purpose.”

Randy Cross, a former lineman, said, “It ought to terrify anyone that’s played the game.”

Players who began their careers knowing the likely costs to their knees and shoulders are only now learning about the cognitive risks, too. After years of denying or discrediting evidence of football’s impact on the brain — from C.T.E. in deceased players to an increasing number of retirees found to have dementia or other memory-related disease — the N.F.L. has spent the last year addressing the issue, mostly through changes in concussion management and playing rules.

to ’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, the research group that will soon examine Duerson’s brain.

Duerson sent text messages to his family before he shot himself specifically requesting that his brain be examined for damage, two people aware of the messages said. Another person close to Duerson, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that Duerson had commented to him in recent months that he might have C.T.E., an incurable disease linked to depression, impaired impulse control and cognitive decline. Members of Duerson’s family declined an interview request through a family friend.

Duerson was a four-time Pro Bowl safety, primarily for the Bears. He won Super Bowls with the Bears and the Giants and retired in 1993.

For the past several years, Duerson served on the six-person panel that considers retired players’ claims through the league’s disability plan and the 88 Plan, a fund founded in 2007 to help defray families’ costs of caring for players with dementia. So Duerson would have been familiar with the stories of hundreds of retirees with mental issues ranging from impaired short-term memory to outright dementia.

“You know he’s been sitting in the disability meetings and the applications, so I’m sure he’s seen a lot of disability applications that have to do with brain injury,” said Ben Lynch, a center for the 49ers from 1999 to 2002. “Having seen all those things come across in front of him, and for him to make the request about his brain, it’s something that must have been really on his mind. It’s unbelievable to me that this happened. The fact that he shot himself in chest, and not the head, it’s really eerie.”

Matt Birk, a center for the , is one of 6 current N.F.L. players and 103 in all who have pledged to donate their brain to the Boston University center for analysis after their death. He said that Duerson’s requesting the same before shooting himself in a way punctuated the first era of the investigation.

“It’s almost now to the point that — not that it’s not tragic — but now it’s almost becoming common, some former players with some form of brain problems,” Birk said. “Is it something that I think about? Yeah, absolutely. There’s a little bit of, ‘Well, it’s not going to happen to me.’ ”

Duerson was successful in private food-related business after he retired, but he had encountered financial and family problems in recent years. In 2005, he resigned from the Notre Dame board of trustees after he was charged with pushing his wife, Alicia. The next year, he sold most of his company’s assets at auction. In 2007, the Duersons filed for divorce, and their home in Highland Park, Ill., went into foreclosure, .

Duerson relocated to Florida and remained heavily involved with issues regarding former N.F.L. players. Last spring, he attended a gathering of veterans in Fort Lauderdale held by the , founded by Culverhouse, the former president, to help league retirees apply for medical and pension benefits. Mitchell Welch, the organization’s vice president, said that when discussion that day turned to the — some veterans’ minds wandered, some appearing as if the topic of mental decline did not apply to them. Duerson walked to the front of the room and asked to say some words to the players, which Welch, in an interview Sunday, said he now would never forget.

“I’m Dave Duerson,” Welch recalled Duerson saying. “Pay attention to what this guy’s telling you. Because it’s stuff you’re going to need to know.”