Posted on December 4, 2012 · Posted in Brain Injury

All the pundits are now raising the question that I asked days ago: Did Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher kill his girlfriend and then commit suicide in front of his coach and GM because of brain damage from playing football?

Author Derek Flood mused on the issue in a blog for The Huffington Post Monday, where he talked about how traumatic brain injury can prevent a person from making the right moral choices. “Did football injuries turn Belcher into a killer?” Flood asked.

We have learned more about Belcher’s physical and mental woes since the tragic events on Saturday. According to the New York Post, one of his friend’s said that Belcher has sustained a head injury in a recent game, which kept him on the bench for at least one game.

In addition, Belcher was reportedly drinking a lot and taking pain killers because of his head injury.

It is true that other than those reports, Belcher didn’t seem to have any long history of concussions or TBI. But an article in The New York Times Monday may help explain what happened with Belcher. The story, with the headline “Study Bolsters Link Between Routine Hits and Brain Disease,” says there is increasing evidence that even “routine” blows to the head can lead to long-term brain damage.

The point here is that even though Belcher may not have suffered a lot of  “official” concussions, the hits he took during his football career, what The Times called “mild head trauma,” may have impaired his cognitive functions. Maybe it is the reason he killed the mother of his 3-month-old baby girl, and then turned a gun on himself.

The new study, published in the journal Brain, seems extremely comprehensive and took four years to complete. It was done by the Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, Veterans Affairs Boston Healthcare System, in conjunction with the Sports Legacy Institute.

Researchers examined brain tissue taken from 85 deceased people, most of them athletes, who had sustained repeated “mild” TBI, according to The Times. About 80 percent of this group showed signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a degenerative brain disease that brings with it dementia, depression and memory loss.

The brain tissue of former Chicago Bears Dave Duerson, who committed suicide, and NHL enforcer Derek Boogaard, who died of an accidental drug overdose, was among that examined by researchers, The Times reported.

Of those with CTE, 33 had played in the NFL, according to The Times.

The article includes photos that compare the brain tissue of someone who hasn’t suffered head trauma to that of those in the study, and one can see for him or herself the dark, shriveled tissue of those with CTE. A picture is truly worth a thousand words.

About the Author

Attorney Gordon S. Johnson, Jr.
Past Chair Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group, American Association of Justice :: 800-992-9447