Aaron Hernandez had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a football-linked brain disease which triggers aggression, suicidal thoughts and dementia, according to test results released by his lawyer on Thursday.
The former New England Patriots star was serving a life sentence for murder when he killed himself in April at the age of 27.
Now, tests on his brain have shown he had one of the most severe forms of CTE ever detected in former players, according to an analysis by Boston University’s high profile investigation into football-linked brain injuries.
The disease, which can only be diagnosed post-mortem, is believed to be linked to repeated clashes to the head, for example in contact football.
Did he have CTE? Aaron Hernandez committed suicide in April at the age of 27 while serving a life sentence for murder. Now his family has had his brain tested for a suicide-linked disease
Tragic: The star tight end was arrested while on contract with the Patriots. Prosecution witnesses at his two trials painted a picture of a troubled man with a history of drug use and paranoid tendencies. Researchers say these sound like the hallmarks of football-linked disease
The disgraced star had a $41 million NFL contract when he was arrested at his home in June 2013 and charged with murder.
After his death in April, a posthumous trial found he was not guilty of separate charges of fatally shooting two men outside a Boston nightclub in 2012.
But at the time of his death, he penned a suicide note which suggested he did not believe he would be found innocent.
Prosecution witnesses at his two trials painted a picture of a troubled man with a history of drug use and paranoid tendencies.
Brain researchers say these sound like the hallmarks of football-linked disease.
Boston’s ongoing investigation into football-linked brain injury is studying hundreds of former players’ brains – alive and dead – including Aaron Hernandez, who was convicted of murder and committed suicide in his cell.
Last month, the team sent shockwaves through the industry with an explosive report showing 110 of the 111 players’ brains they studied had signs of CTE.
And earlier this week they released new research showing that football players who start practicing tackle football from at least age 12 have impaired emotions and behaviors later in life.
That followed previous research from the BU CTE Center that examined former professional players.
In those studies, the former NFL players who started tackle football prior to age 12 had worse memory and mental flexibility, as well as structural brain changes on MRI scans, compared to former players who began at age 12 or older.
This all comes amid a surge in controversy surrounding brain injury and contact sports.
Last week, the editors of a major medical journal urged doctors to cut all ties with the sport – from sponsoring NFL teams to treating college players – since it ‘is not consonant with the best values of our profession’.
Days later, the Canadian Football League announced an immediate end to full-contact practices.