Obstacle racing jockeys who have cte

5 NFL Athletes Who Had CTE

American football player Mike Webster died of a heart attack in 2002 at 50. The legendary Steeler’s center, nicknamed “Iron Mike,” had a successful career marked by four Super Bowl wins. But his post-NFL years were saturated with setbacks. He lost all of his money, got divorced, forgot how to eat, and was sleeping in his car. His behavior became erratic and explosive. What caused him to lose his mind?

That was the question neuropathologist Bennet Omalu, MD, wanted to answer when Webster’s body appeared at the Allegheny Coroner's Office for autopsy.

Dr. Omalu made his first incision in Webster’s chest to take a look at his heart. Yes, it was definitely a heart attack that caused his early death. But there had to be more to this case. Webster was a menace on the field and possessed an unwavering strength and hunger for success. But his troubled life after football led Omalu to dig deeper.

Omalu spent days and nights studying Webster’s brain to find an explanation. His brain appeared normal - no shrinkage as found in brains with Alzheimer's, and no obvious contusions like in dementia pugilistica, a form of dementia found in boxers with repeated traumatic blows to the head.

Then he saw it: little brown and red splotches everywhere. Also known as tau proteins, these accumulations of tangles are key drivers in dementia because they slowly spread and kill brain cells. Omalu knew he was onto something big, and presented his findings in a study published in the journal Neurosurgery, naming the condition chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a degenerative brain disease caused by repeated subconcussive hits to the head. Thus far it has been identified in individuals with a history of repetitive hits to the head, with military veterans and contact sport athletes having the highest risk.

To date, CTE can only be identified during a postmortem autopsy. But symptoms of the condition can be present years before death, as they were in Webster's case.

“Often times in CTE, memory problems, difficulty multitasking, behavior problems such as aggression, and mood problems including depression worsen over time,” says Michael Alosco, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow with the Alzheimer's Disease and CTE Center at Boston University. "If they live into older age, those with CTE will develop dementia."

Since 2009, a team of researchers at the VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank, located at Boston University, has studied hundreds of brains in the hopes of understanding the mechanisms of CTE and finding a way to diagnose the condition prior to death.

So far, the researchers have diagnosed CTE in 110 out of the 111 former NFL players who have donated their brains, including five of the NFL’s most legendary athletes.

Here are their stories:

1. Aaron Hernandez