September 29, 2014 / 11:19 PM / 3 years ago

NFL player Belcher likely had brain damage, post-mortem exam shows

(Reuters) - A Kansas City Chiefs football player who fatally shot his girlfriend in 2012 before committing suicide showed signs of a degenerative brain condition found in other deceased NFL players, an attorney for the family said on Monday.

A makeshift memorial for Kansas City Chiefs football player Jovan Belcher is seen outside his mother's home in West Babylon, New York December 4, 2012. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

A post-mortem analysis of Jovan Belcher’s brain revealed signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), said Dirk Vandever, who is representing Belcher’s young daughter.

Belcher, 25, shot and killed girlfriend Kasandra Perkins, the mother of his then-3-month-old daughter Zoey. The linebacker then drove to the Chiefs’ practice facility, where he turned the gun on himself.

The report comes as the NFL and former players discuss a proposed settlement to cover conditions caused by long-term brain trauma and the league faces criticism over its perceived leniency on domestic violence cases in recent months.

“Probably the two most significant problems that the NFL is facing is a) what does the nature of the game itself mean in terms of the health of these young men in terms of head trauma,” Kansas City-based Vandever told Reuters by telephone.

“And second, what do we do about domestic violence? Here you have in Jovan Belcher somebody who had been subjected to ongoing head trauma and then erupted.”

In a story first reported Monday by ESPN’s “Outside the Lines,” neuropathologist Piotr Kozlowski’s analysis of Belcher’s brain affirmed the signs of CTE, a disease believed to be set off by repeated head trauma.

CTE, linked to football players at a higher rate than the general public, is tied to rage-control issues and depression, according to Vandever.

Belcher’s body was exhumed one year after his Dec. 1, 2012 death, and his brain was examined in New York two weeks later. The lawyer tied the report’s release to the NFL’s current struggle with domestic violence.

“We decided to bring it out at this point because all of the publicity about the five different NFL players that have been implicated in the domestic violence,” Vandever said.

The league suspended running back Ray Rice two games after he knocked out his future wife earlier this year. Only after a video emerged in September of the punch did the Baltimore Ravens release Rice and the league suspend him indefinitely.

In addition to Rice, NFL players Adrian Peterson, Greg Hardy, Ray McDonald and Jonathan Dwyer have been implicated in domestic abuse cases.

Under a proposed concussion settlement between the NFL and former players, Belcher’s daughter and mother, together, would be eligible for up to $4 million if it can be shown that Belcher had CTE.

Reporting By Steve Ginsburg; Editing by Mary Milliken and Cynthia Osterman

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