A new Netflix documentary details the trial of ex-Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez and highlights the severity of traumatic brain injuries (TBI) in contact sports. The NFL, including teams like the Patriots, have long misrepresented the dangers of repeated head trauma. Nevertheless, studies have shown that degenerative brain diseases related to TBI can lead to erratic behavior, mood swings and violence. Though there may be many factors contributing to Hernandez’s violence, it seems clear that TBI was a factor in his crimes.
TBI dangers ignored by sports organizations
An autopsy revealed that Hernandez had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which was in its later stages. The problem with chronic brain diseases like CTE is that they can only be confirmed through an autopsy, long after a patient has done damage to themselves and others. Hernandez was diagnosed with stage 3 CTE after his suicide while in prison. Here are the four stages of CTE:
· Stage 1: Early-stage CTE, marked by attention issues and headaches.
· Stage 2: This stage includes mood swings, depression and other mood disorders, as well as impulsive behavior and memory loss.
· Stage 3: Patients show reduced executive function related to attention and behavior control. This stage also includes increased aggression and more severe forms of the symptoms associated with Stages 1 and 2.
· Stage 4: This final stage is associated with even more severe symptoms of aggression and paranoid tendencies, as well as symptoms similar to dementia.
A cautionary tale
In 2015, Hernandez was found guilty of the 2013 murder of his friend Odin Lloyd. What was a promising career, along with a $40 million contract with the Patriots, dissolved because of Hernandez’s frequent violence and dangerously erratic behavior.
Though Odin Lloyd’s murder is one of the most extreme examples of the consequences of TBI, the film explores how sports organizations are willing to ignore the damage they create to players and those affected by those players.
Holding employers accountable
As ongoing research helps to explain the causes of CTE, more and more athletes are coming forward about their debilitating injuries. In 2018, the NFL settled a lawsuit in which they paid former players suffering from TBI with over $1 billion in damages. Though it is unlikely to happen overnight, cautionary tales like Hernandez’s may create greater awareness of TBI. If you or a loved one suffers from TBI related to their job, contact a personal injury lawyer to discuss your options.