Former University of Florida football standout Aaron Hernandez, who committed suicide in prison earlier this year while serving a life sentence for murder, had a severe case of the degenerative brain disease known as CTE.
According to news reports, Hernandez’s lawyer Jose Baez announced the findings at a news conference Thursday. He told reporters that researchers found that Hernandez’s case was “the most severe case they had ever seen in someone of Aaron’s age.” Hernandez was 27 when he died.
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, has been diagnosed in more than 100 deceased NFL players. The disease can be diagnosed only after death. Hernandez is one of several players who have been found to have had CTE after committing suicide, a list that includes Junior Seau, Jovan Belcher and Andre Waters.
Hernandez grew up in Bristol, Connecticut, before attending UF, where he played tight end for the national championship team in 2008. He was drafted by the New England Patriots in 2010.
He was a noted player on the field until his arrest in 2013, when he was charged with the murder of Odin Lloyd, a semi-pro football player, whose body was found near Hernandez’s home in Massachusetts.
In 2015, he was convicted of the shooting death of Lloyd and received a life sentence.
According to Associated Press, Hernandez’s daughter has filed a lawsuit against the NFL and the New England Patriots for leading Hernandez to believe that playing in the league was safe.
The doctor who studied Hernandez’s brain at the CTE Center at Boston University found that he was suffering from stage 3 CTE, only one stage below the most severe stage four.
The finding marks another link between the suicide of a high-profile football player and CTE. The conversation around brain disease and the NFL has grown in recent years as a growing number of football players have developed brain injuries and neurological conditions.
Eight members of the famed 1972 Miami Dolphins are now affected by cognitive impairment. Mike Klen, a starting linebacker during the Dolphins’ perfect season in ‘72, told the Miami Herald earlier this year that he felt football was to blame for his cognitive problems. Earlier this year, Miami-Dade resident and Dolphins legend Nick Buoniconti told Sports Illustrated that he believes he is suffering from CTE. His family said his cognitive impairment has left him unable to remember how to dress.
The concerns for brain injury in contact sports extends down to youth sports. The University of Miami and Miami-Dade County Public Schools have partnered together to study and treat student athletes who suffer concussions on the playing field. The partnership found that more than 500 students have suffered concussions since 2011, with likely many more undiagnosed and unreported.
Information from the Associated Press was used for this report.