Aaron Hernandez did have CTE

  • Ex-New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez was 27 when he committed suicide in his prison cell in April
  • Test results show he had a severe form of CTE, a brain disease which causes dementia and suicidal thoughts, which has been linked to head clashes
  • The family lawyer said they are set to file a lawsuit against the NFL and the Patriots on behalf of Hernandez's four-year-old daughter Avielle
  • The lawsuit will allege that by the time Hernandez reached the NFL in 2010, league officials were well aware of how the sport could cause the life-threatening disease
  • CTE is a brain disease in which sufferers have a build-up of tau protein in parts of their brain. This affects normal brain functioning which causes aggression, explosiveness, impulsivity, depression, memory loss and other cognitive changes

By Mia De Graaf For Dailymail.com

Published: 16:09 EDT, 21 September 2017 | Updated: 03:54 EDT, 22 September 2017

Confirmed: Tests on Aaron Hernandez's brain show he had CTE, a football-linked disease which causes aggression and suicidal thoughts

Aaron Hernandez had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a football-linked brain disease which triggers aggression, suicidal thoughts and dementia, according to test results released by his lawyer on Thursday. 

The former New England Patriots star was serving a life sentence for murder when he killed himself in April at the age of 27.

Now, his family is suing the NFL team as tests on his brain have shown he had the most severe forms of CTE ever detected in someone of his age - stage three out of four, with stage four being the most severe. 

The analysis was performed by two neuropathologists in Boston University's high profile investigation into football-linked brain injuries.

His brain scans reveal huge clumps of tau protein in Hernandez's frontal lobes, and in the nerve cells around small blood vessels, a unique feature of CTE.

These proteins, also seen in dementia, disrupts the normal functioning of the brain, triggering aggressiveness, explosiveness, impulsivity, depression, memory loss and other cognitive changes.

Announcing the results at a news conference on Thursday, his lawyer Jose Baez said the family is set to file a lawsuit against the NFL and the Patriots on behalf of Hernandez's four-year-old daughter Avielle.

The lawsuit will allege that by the time Hernandez reached the NFL in 2010, the league was already well aware of the dangers football could have on the brain but neglected to protect players. 

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This is Hernandez's brain scan: It shows the classic features of CTE. There is severe deposition of tau protein in the frontal lobes of the brain (top row). The bottom row shows microscopic deposition of tau protein in nerve cells around small blood vessels, a unique feature of CTE
This is Hernandez's brain scan: It shows the classic features of CTE. There is severe deposition of tau protein in the frontal lobes of the brain (top row). The bottom row shows microscopic deposition of tau protein in nerve cells around small blood vessels, a unique feature of CTE

This is Hernandez's brain scan: It shows the classic features of CTE. There is severe deposition of tau protein in the frontal lobes of the brain (top row). The bottom row shows microscopic deposition of tau protein in nerve cells around small blood vessels, a unique feature of CTE

Tragic: The star tight end was arrested while on contract with the Patriots. Prosecution witnesses at his two trials painted a picture of a troubled man with a history of drug use and paranoid tendencies. Researchers say these sound like the hallmarks of football-linked disease
Tragic: The star tight end was arrested while on contract with the Patriots. Prosecution witnesses at his two trials painted a picture of a troubled man with a history of drug use and paranoid tendencies. Researchers say these sound like the hallmarks of football-linked disease

Tragic: The star tight end was arrested while on contract with the Patriots. Prosecution witnesses at his two trials painted a picture of a troubled man with a history of drug use and paranoid tendencies. Researchers say these sound like the hallmarks of football-linked disease

The disease, which can only be diagnosed post-mortem, is believed to be linked to repeated clashes to the head, for example in contact football - though no studies have been able to confirm it.     

Hernandez is one of hundreds of former players - alive and dead - being studied Boston's research team to confirm whether the sport causes the crippling and life-threatening disease.

A spokesman for the NFL refused to comment on the findings. 

The report comes at a heated moment for the NFL:

  • There is growing controversy over the links between football and brain injury
  • Boston University is conducting a major investigation into CTE and football, funded by the National Institutes of Health, analyzing hundreds of former players
  • One of their reports showed 110 of the 111 players' brains they studied had signs of CTE 
  • The study became very high profile after Hernandez's shocking suicide and conviction, following two trials
  • Throughout his trial, witnesses described a troubled, paranoid, aggressive man with addiction issues 
  • The NFL cut ties with the study in July amid rumors of a 'bitter feud' between the league and lead researcher Dr Robert Stern, who they saw as 'critical' of football 

The neuropathological examination of Hernandez’s brain was conducted by Dr Ann McKee, director of Boston's CTE Center.

Based on characteristic neuropathological findings, Dr McKee concluded that Hernandez had CTE, stage three out of four, (stage four being the most severe). 

A spokesman said this diagnosis was confirmed by a second neuropathologist.

The tests showed Hernandez also had early brain atrophy and large perforations in the septum pellucidum, a central membrane. 

HOW CTE LEADS TO AGGRESSION, EXPLOSIVENESS, SUICIDE, AND MEMORY LOSS

WHAT IS CTE?

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a degenerative brain disease that is caused by repeated hits to the head. 

Over time, these hard impacts result in confusion, depression, dementia, explosiveness, aggression, and suicidal thoughts.

HOW DOES IT AFFECT BEHAVIOR? 

Researchers are still unclear on how CTE affects behavior, but a growing swell of studies is offering some answers.

  • CTE sufferers have clumps of tau protein built up in the frontal lobe, which controls emotional expression and judgment (similar to dementia)
  • This interrupts normal functioning and blood flow in the brain, disrupting and killing nerve cells
  • By stage 3 - i.e. Hernandez's stage - the tau deposits expand from the frontal lobe (at the top) to the temporal lobe (on the sides). This affects the amygdala and the hippocampus, which controls emotion and memory

The disgraced star had a $41 million NFL contract when he was arrested at his home in June 2013 and charged with the murder of a semi-pro football player Odin Lloyd.

Lloyd was the boyfriend of Hernandez's fiancee's sister. He was found dead in an industrial park on June 17, 2013, riddled with bullets. Surveillance footage showed Hernandez at the scene an hour before, then arriving at home minutes after gunshots were fired. 

In April 2015, Hernandez was convicted of first-degree murder, and sentenced to life in prison.

While in prison, Hernandez was charged with another killing - a double murder committed by a drive-by shooting. But in April this year, he was acquitted of both charges. 

The next day, he took his own life. 

Prosecution witnesses at his two trials painted a picture of a troubled man with a history of drug use and paranoid tendencies. 

Brain researchers say these sound like the hallmarks of football-linked disease. 

Boston's ongoing investigation into football-linked brain injury is studying hundreds of former players' brains, including Aaron Hernandez, Junior Seau, Dave Duerson, and Andre Waters - all of whom committed suicide and had CTE.

Seau and Duerson both shot themselves in the chest with the expressed intention of donating their brains to scientists to examine them for disease. 

As expected, tests subsequently showed that both men and Waters, who were all over the age of 40, had CTE. Hernandez, however, was in his mid-20s - with a far more severe pathology.   

Last month, Boston's team sent shockwaves through the industry with an explosive report showing 110 of the 111 players' brains they studied had signs of CTE.

Attorney Jose Baez (left) announcing the lawsuit which will be filed against the National Football League and the New England Patriots on behalf of Aaron Hernandez's family. Officially, it will be on behalf of his daughter Avielle, with his fiancee Shayanna Jenkins (right)
Attorney Jose Baez (left) announcing the lawsuit which will be filed against the National Football League and the New England Patriots on behalf of Aaron Hernandez's family. Officially, it will be on behalf of his daughter Avielle, with his fiancee Shayanna Jenkins (right)

Attorney Jose Baez (left) announcing the lawsuit which will be filed against the National Football League and the New England Patriots on behalf of Aaron Hernandez's family. Officially, it will be on behalf of his daughter Avielle, with his fiancee Shayanna Jenkins (right)

PATRIOTS ONLY LISTED ONE CONCUSSION FOR HERNANDEZ - AND HE PLAYED THROUGH IT

by Alex Raskin, Sports News Editor

The Patriots have yet to comment on the news of Hernandez's brain report and the family's impending lawsuit. 

A review of regular and postseason injury reports released weekly by the Patriots during Hernandez’s three years with the team revealed only once instance in which Hernandez was listed with a concussion. 

Despite that injury, Hernandez played that week, making seven receptions as the Patriots beat the Baltimore Ravens, 23-20, in the AFC Championship game on January 22, 2012. 

This is the Patriots' injury report which shows how Hernandez played while concussed
This is the Patriots' injury report which shows how Hernandez played while concussed

This is the Patriots' injury report which shows how Hernandez played while concussed

And earlier this week they released new research showing that football players who start practicing tackle football from at least age 12 have impaired emotions and behaviors later in life.

That followed previous research from the BU CTE Center that examined former professional players.

In those studies, the former NFL players who started tackle football prior to age 12 had worse memory and mental flexibility, as well as structural brain changes on MRI scans, compared to former players who began at age 12 or older.

This all comes amid a surge in controversy surrounding brain injury and contact sports.

Last week, the editors of a major medical journal urged doctors to cut all ties with the sport - from sponsoring NFL teams to treating college players - since it 'is not consonant with the best values of our profession'.

Days later, the Canadian Football League announced an immediate end to full-contact practices.

From golden boy to convict: The tragic story of Aaron Hernandez

Aaron Hernandez was born into a sports dynasty, and he was a star.

Growing up in Bristol, Connecticut, he excelled in football, basketball, and sprint running.

But his idyllic childhood took a turn at the age of 16 in 2006 when his father, a coach who was his inspiration and best friend, died during a routine hernia surgery.

Hernandez left high school in January 2007 to join the University of Florida Gators.

Within months, he was involved in a fight, sucker-punching a restaurant manager. The police report said he ruptured the man's eardrum.

He was also suspended for marijuana.

And in his sophomore year, he was named in a police report about a club shooting, naming him as one of a few Gator players which triggered the argument.

But despite his run-ins with the law, he was incredibly skilled.

It meant he was able to skip his senior year to go pro in 2010.

He was expected to be the first pick. Ultimately, he was left until the fourth pick, selected by the Patriots. It has since emerged that Hernandez had written a personal letter to the team asking them to draft him - a factor which was likely significant.

And they weren't disappointed. In 2012, he landed a $40 million contract for his third season.

But he didn't see that season through.

In June 2013, Hernandez was arrested and charged with the murder of Odin Lloyd, the boyfriend of his fiancee's sister.

Lloyd was a semi-pro football player. He was found dead in a park on June 17, 2013, with bullet wounds.

On June 28, Hernandez was detained, with an arrest warrant that said he was seen with Lloyd at 2.30am on the day of his murder. Gunshots were heard at around 3.25am, and at 3.29am, surveillance footage showed Hernandez arriving home in his car, which was five minutes from the crime scene.

In April 2015, Hernandez was convicted of first-degree murder, and sentenced to life in prison.

While in prison, Hernandez was charged with another killing - a double murder committed by a drive-by shooting. But in April this year, he was acquitted of both charges. 

The next day, he took his own life, and penned three suicide notes, including one to his fiancee Shayanna Jenkins.

They were discovered in the cell were Aaron Hernandez hanged himself, leading investigators to officially declare his death a suicide.

The notes were discovered next to a Bible opened to John 3:16, the same verse that Hernandez had written across his forehead in marker.

That verse reads: 'For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.' 

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