Posted on December 21, 2011 · Posted in Brain Injury

Add former Green Bay Packer Lew Carpenter to the growing list of  pro football players who had degenerative brain disease. And his case adds a disturbing new twist to ongoing medical research. 

Earlier this month the Associated Press reported that Carpenter, who never sustained any known concussions during his NFL career in the 1950s and 1960s, had an advanced form or chronic traumatic encephelopathy (CTE).  Studies of the brains of other deceased pro athletes, football and hockey players, have found the same disease.

Carpenter, who also played for the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns, died a year ago at age 78. But his family agreed to donate his brain to science, as part of research into whether athletes are suffering in abnormal numbers from CTE, which doctors have linked to repeated brain trauma.

Carpenter showed many of the symptoms of CTE before he died. He was having memory problems, and could not control his anger, according to AP.  The examination of his brain didn’t show evidence of Alzheimer’s disease, just the CTE, the wire service reported. 

The lesson to be learned from Carpenter’s case is that an athlete doesn’t have to sustain a full-blown concussion, or concussions, in order to develop CTE. The cumulative effect of mini-concussions, so-called subconcussions, can apparently bring on CTE, as well.

“The amount of subconcussive trauma that he had — he probably had between 1,000 and 1,500 subconcussive blows a year, just from practice and play in games,” likely lead to CTE, Dr. Robert Cantu told AP.

Cantu, a researcher at Boston University, is doing work along with the Veterans Administration Center for the Study of Traumaic Encephalopathy, AP reported.

It’s true that Carpenter —  who finished his career with the Packers, winning two NFL championships — was never diagnosed with a concussion. But back in the day, when he was playing, concussions were not the issue they are today. He may have had some that were missed.

If in fact Carpenter never had a full-blown concussion, his case raises a troubling issue.

“Damage may be caused as much or more by the low-level, or subconcussive, blows to the head as by big hits replayed on the highlgiht shows that leave a player wobbly,” AP wrote.  

About the Author

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