Demariyus Thomas, the NFL wide receiver who died suddenly last month at his Atlanta-area home, had the debilitating brain disease known as CTE when he passed.
USA Today reported this morning that Thomas’ family, along with doctors from Boston University’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) Center and a group called the Concussion Legacy Foundation had announced the results of a posthumous examination of Thomas’ brain. Such studies have become common for former NFL players that die young, as researchers and their families look for clues into their deaths.
Thomas was only 33-years-old and had only hung up his cleats last summer, after the 2020 NFL season when his body was discovered at the home about 20 miles outside of Atlanta. It was reported at the time that officials suspected that his death was the result of “a medical issue”, possibly a seizure.
CTE stands for chronic traumatic encephalitis, a degenerative disease of the brain linked to memory loss, depression and cognitive decline. Though CTE can’t be diagnosed until after death, it is believed that an accumulation of brain trauma, including concussions as well as jarring of the head and body that don’t rise to the level of a concussion.
The disease was discovered in the early 2000s after the death of Mike Webster, a Hall of Fame center for the Pittsburgh Steelers who died after battling its symptoms for years; his death and the story of the doctor who studied his brain were made famous by Will Smith’s portrayal in the film “Concussion”.
Other NFL players who died tragically were also later found to have the disease. In 2012, Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau died by suicide at age 43, shooting himself in the chest. The prior year, former Chicago Bears defensive back Dave Duerson also shot himself in the chest, leaving a suicide note that said he did so in hopes that his brain would be left intact and could be studied after his passing.
Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chris Henry died in 2009 at age 26 after an altercation with is fiancée ended with him falling from the back of a pickup truck. He, too, was posthumously diagnosed with CTE.
In 2013, the NFL reached a billion-dollar settlement with its players’ union after a lawsuit claiming the league misled players about the long-term dangers of concussions. Even that went left; it was discovered years later that the NFL had used “race norms” that assumed Black players had a lower baseline cognitive ability than white players in determining how to divvy up the settlement cash.