Former Dolphins great Mark Duper is the latest retired NFL player to be diagnosed as having signs of a severe brain disease, according to a report Thursday night by CBS Sports.
Duper, who played wide receiver for 11 years in Miami, is the ninth living former NFL player thought to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a brain disease that can cause forgetfulness, anxiety, mood swings, depression and thoughts of suicide.
Duper, 54, did not return a call from the Miami Herald, but he told ESPN’s Outside the Lines that he suffers from memory problems, emotional swings and panic attacks.
CTE is linked to repeated head trauma and is being increasingly diagnosed among athletes, especially those in boxing, football and hockey.
Until recently, doctors were able to diagnose CTE only by looking for increased levels of “tau” protein in brain tissue during autopsies. But a recent study at UCLA has taken steps to lead to diagnoses in players who are still alive.
Among the other players who showed signs of CTE in the study are Cowboys running back Tony Dorsett, Bills offensive lineman Joe DeLamielleure and Giants and Jets defensive lineman Leonard Marshall.
Dr. Gillian Hotz, a neurotrauma specialist at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine, said the UCLA study is a positive step, albeit a preliminary one.
“We’re not there yet — it’s still really early,” Hotz said. “There’s a lot of work to be done, but it would be good if in maybe in another year or two we have enough evidence to tell us that somebody has this increased protein and we don’t have to wait to see their brain in an autopsy.”
According to Hotz, the most recent studies, including the one in which Duper participated, are attempting to use imaging techniques and neuropsychology to detect abnormally high concentrations of tau in living subjects.
Said Hotz: “The big question in our field is, ‘Do we have enough evidence to make this connection?’ ”
There is no known cure for CTE, but Hotz stressed the importance of early detection as part of the solution. Even with medical breakthroughs, though, she said that prevention must continue to improve — in the form of technique and equipment as well as treatment.
“It’s not going to be one thing,” Hotz said. “It has to be a combination to make the game safer, whether we’re talking about hockey, football or boxing.”
Duper told ESPN that he encourages former players to get tested and that he’s ready to move on and see what the next steps are.
“It’s not a death sentence,” Duper said.
As for CTE research, the UCLA study appears to provide a useful piece to an enormous puzzle that remains largely unsolved.
“We’re just at the beginning of this,” Hotz said. “Any good study that gives us more evidence is important, but we’ve got a long way to go.”
The Dolphins released the week’s final injury report Saturday, providing promising signs for linebackers Koa Misi and Jelani Jenkins, who are listed as questionable.
Misi (knee) and Jenkins (foot) were limited in practice Saturday after not participating through Friday.
Cornerback Dimitri Patterson (groin), who was limited in practice all week, is doubtful for Monday’s game at Tampa Bay.
The following players were full participants in Saturday’s practice and are probable for Monday: cornerback Nolan Carroll (concussion), safety Chris Clemons (hamstring), linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (calf), guard Nate Garner (knee), tight end Dion Sims (toe) and kicker Caleb Sturgis (right groin).