The family of former professional football star Aaron Hernandez has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against his former team, the New England Patriots, and the NFL. The family said that Hernandez – who committed suicide earlier this year while serving a life sentence for murder – suffered from the brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy, also known as CTE.
According to the family’s lawsuit, the Patriots and the NFL failed to protect Hernandez’s safety during his three year career as a pro football player. The lawsuit alleges that the team and league “concealed and misrepresented the risks of repeated traumatic head impacts to NFL players” and “needlessly delayed adoption of rules and league policies related to player health and safety with regard to concussions and subconcussive head trauma.”
The Hernandez family is seeking $20 million in damages from the Patriots and the NFL, according to the lawsuit. The attorney representing the family in their lawsuit said that Hernandez’s days as an NFL player were the presumptive cause of his CTE diagnosis and that the disease played a role in the football star’s premature death. “Suicidal impulses are recognized to be symptoms of late-stage CTE,” the attorney said at a press conference.
Hernandez was drafted by the Patriots in 2010 and played three seasons for the team. In 2013, he was arrested in connection with the murder of Odin Lloyd, a semi-professional football played and friend of the NFL star. Hernandez was convicted of first degree murder in 2015 and sentenced to life in prison. Five days after Hernandez was acquitted in two other murders, he committed suicide in his Massachusetts prison cell.
At a press conference announcing the lawsuit, an attorney for the family said that Hernandez suffered from stage 3 CTE. Boston University health experts – who examined tissue samples from Hernandez’s brain and issued the diagnosis – said that Hernandez’s was the most serious case of CTE they had ever seen in a 27 year old brain.
Although scientists are still studying the causes of CTE, the disease is believed to be caused by repeated blows to the head, such as those suffered by a football player. These repeated blows – even if they do not cause a concussion or produce other symptoms – can trigger the growth of damaging substance in the brain known as tau proteins. These tau proteins can cause “aggressiveness, explosiveness, impulsivity, depression, memory loss, and other cognitive changes,” according to the doctor who examined Hernandez’s brain.
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Researchers who have studied the brains of 112 former NFL players found evidence of CTE in 111 of them. Recently, studies have also shown that young players may also be exposed to danger from playing youth football. A study of individuals who played football before age 12 found that they were twice as likely to develop behavioral problems and three times more likely to suffer from depression.
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