More than 100 former NFL players have been found to have had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the degenerative brain disease associated with repeated knocks to the head. One might think, then, that Aaron Hernandez's case of CTE is just another one. Not so. Hernandez's diagnosis "will shake the NFL to its core. As it should," writes columnist Nancy Armour at USA Today. He was just 27, yet had an advanced stage of the disease. The NFL can brush off cases in older men, citing other possible factors, but not here. "If Hernandez had severe CTE before he was 30, how can you promise me that my kid won’t, too?" writes Armour. The the only way the league can save itself is to honestly assess the question and find answers. Related coverage:
- 'Severe case': Doctors said Hernandez had "the most severe case they had ever seen in someone of Aaron's age," similar to what a former player in his 60s might have, says a lawyer representing Hernandez's family. The New York Times notes that it raises a big, perhaps unanswerable, question: Did CTE play a role in Hernandez's violent behavior off the field? (He committed suicide in prison.)
- What they saw: Hernandez had Stage 3 CTE out of 4, and Sports Illustrated has images and a video showing what doctors saw when they looked at his brain.
- Long odds: Hernandez's family sued the NFL and the New England Patriots for $20 million on Thursday, saying they did not protect Hernandez from the dangers of the game. The case would be difficult to win, a legal expert tells the Boston Globe. But he adds that the league and team may want to settle in order to avoid turning over related documents.
- NFL response: "It's a complicated puzzle," league spokesman Joe Lockhart said Friday in regard to football and CTE, per NBC News. "There are a lot of dots here, and science just hasn’t been able to connect them.” He also said the league plans to "vigorously contest" the lawsuit, adding that the CTE finding shouldn't cause people to view Hernandez as a victim, because the real victims are the friends and relatives of those he killed.
- Skeptical: Boston Herald columnist Michael Rosenberg writes that it is oh-so-tempting to connect the dots from CTE to Hernandez's criminal life and ultimately to his suicide. But too much is unknown about concussions to do that. "Pinning his suicide on the NFL makes for a good headline," he writes. "It may be a winning legal strategy. But it’s a hard theory for me to buy in this case."
- More skeptical: The lawsuit is a "money grab," writes David Whitley at the Orlando Sentinel. "One question I'd like asked is of all the people who were posthumously diagnosed with CTE, why did only one start acting like a mob hitman?" He also won't be surprised if attorney Jose Baez, who defended Casey Anthony, adds Hernandez's college team, the Florida Gators, to the lawsuit.
- Time to act, NFL: Yes, much is unknown about CTE, but enough is known for the NFL to be more aggressive in preventing it, writes Les Carpenter at the Guardian. A small first step could be following the Canadian Football League's lead and banning full-contact practices during the season.
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