Some of you may remember Pittsburgh Steeler linebacker Justin Strzelczyk who was killed in a fiery automobile crash in 2004 at the age of 36. Autopsy reports showed that the former football star had a condition similar to that generally found only in boxers with dementia or people in their 80s.
Strzelczyk was found to have brain damage in post mortem studies due likely to the persistent head trauma he suffered playing football. Since Strzelczyk’s findings were released, at least five other former NFL players have been found to have similar brain damage. These findings add to the growing evidence that longtime football players, particularly lineman, are enduring hidden brain trauma and permanent brain damage.
The condition that has been found in the NFL players (and has been found in many boxers) is called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a condition evidenced by neurofibrillary tangles in the brain’s cortex, which caused memory loss, depression and eventually Alzheimer’s disease-like dementia.
Unfortunately, the tests that show someone has CTE cannot be performed on a living person other than through an intrusive tissue biopsy. For now, NFL players, even those who have never had a concussion like Strzelczyk, will not being able to find out if they have suffered brain damage until it is too late.