Researchers at Boston University revealed on Thursday that Aaron Hernandez suffered from a "severe" case of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) — the neurodegenerative disease often found in individuals with a history of repetitive head trauma — for his age group.
Doctors discovered that Hernandez had Stage 3 CTE, something researchers had yet to see in a brain younger than 46 years old, The Washington Post reports. The average age of American football players with Stage 3 CTE is 67, according to the Boston Herald. Hernandez was 27 when he committed suicide in his prison cell earlier this year.
"In this age group, he's clearly at the severe end of the spectrum," Ann McKee, the head of Boston University’s CTE Center, said. "There is a concern that we're seeing accelerated disease in young athletes. Whether or not that's because they're playing more aggressively or if they're starting at younger ages, we don't know. But we are seeing ravages of this disease, in this specific example, of a young person."
Formerly a tight end for the New England Patriots, Hernandez was serving a life sentence for the murder of Odin Lloyd in 2013. He had been acquitted in another double-murder a week before his death. McKee went on to say that, while they "can't take the pathology and explain the behavior," individuals with CTE often struggle with impulse control and decision-making, and experience rage behaviors and emotional volatility. McKee also said Hernandez had a genetic profile that made him more susceptible to certain brain diseases, which could have played a role in how aggressive his particular case of CTE was.
Following his death, Hernandez's family donated his brain to Boston University's CTE Center for research. When it was discovered that he had Stage 3 CTE, his family announced they were suing the NFL and the Patriots, accusing both sides of failing to "disclose, treat or protect" Hernandez from the dangers of "repetitive impact injuries."