NFL's Junior Seau had brain disease from blows to head

Thu Jan 10, 2013 5:18pm EST
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By Peter Rudegeair and Sharon Begley

(Reuters) - Junior Seau, the 12-time Pro Bowl linebacker who killed himself last year, suffered from the same debilitating brain disease diagnosed in at least two other former NFL defensive players who also committed suicide, a study released on Thursday said.

Seau, 43, died in May after shooting himself in the chest at his beachfront house in his hometown of Oceanside, California. He played mostly for the San Diego Chargers and two other teams in a 20-year career in the National Football League.

A study of Seau's brain by a team of independent researchers found he suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, likely brought on by two decades of blows to the head as a football player, the report said.

Increased awareness and knowledge about brain injuries have unsettled the National Football League, a $9 billion a year industry that rose to popularity largely from the speed and power of its athletes colliding with one another. The league has attempted to institute rule changes protecting player safety while still preserving the spectacle that fans enjoy.

CTE can be diagnosed only after death. Tissue from Seau's brain was sent to the National Institutes of Health for analysis in July, at the request of Seau's family, amid growing concern over the long-term effects of football-related head injuries.

"The final diagnosis was findings consistent with chronic traumatic encephalopathy," Dr. Russell Lonser, the lead researcher on the case, told Reuters. Lonser is chairman of the Department of Neurological Surgery at Ohio State University and led the study of Seau's brain while he was at NIH.

Patients with CTE may display symptoms "such as impulsivity, forgetfulness, depression, (and) sometimes suicidal ideation," Lonser said in the report.

Five neuropathologists - two who work for the government and three who were independent and not informed they were examining Seau - came to a consensus on the diagnosis by studying the accumulation of a protein called tau in certain areas of the brain, Lonser said.   Continued...

A picture of former San Diego Chargers and NFL linebacker Junior Seau is displayed as fans (rear) arrive at Qualcomm Stadium to participate in a "Celebration of Life" memorial, held in Seau's memory in San Diego, California May 11, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Blake