ESPN news just reported that the late Chris Henry, the Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver who died after falling from a moving vehicle last year, had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). CTE is a form of degenerative brain damage caused by multiple hits to the head and is fast becoming the NFL disease, in the same way that Parkinson’s became the Boxing disease.
This new insight provided by Chris Henry’s autopsy means two things:
a. The reasons for Chris Henry’s death are now more complicated: CTE does not just change the brain. It changes behavior. CTE has been linked to impulsive behavior, depression and dementia and, indeed, CTE-related neural damage may have contributed to Chris Henry’s emotional volatility, including whatever problems he was suffering the day of his death.
b. More evidence can now be added to the already high pile of research suggesting the toxic effects of NFL activity on the brain: Evidence of CTE in Henry’s brain adds him to a growing list of more than 50 deceased former athletes, including more than a dozen NFL and college players, pro wrestler Chris Benoit and NHL player Reggie Fleming.
Even more striking then the fact that playing football may have facilitated brain damage is the fact that brain damage was present in a 26 year-old wide receiver. In short, Henry did not exactly sustain a record number of hits to the head. If you’re an NFL veteran, especially a member of the offensive or defensive line (the position most likely to sustain hits to the head) I might seek a brain scan….