BY: John “Hennry” Harris
In the wake of a string of former NFL players committing suicide and a class-action lawsuit filed against the NFL by 4,500 plaintiffs, arguing that for years the NFL concealed a link between football and brain damage, the subject of concussions remains in the national consciousness.
UCLA has a new procedure that has marked the first time doctors can identify signs of the crippling disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative condition many scientists say is caused by head trauma and linked to depression and dementia, in the living.
Doctors have told ESPN’s “Outside The Lines” that Pro Football Hall of Famers Tony Dorsett and Joe DeLamielleure, and former NFL All-Pro Leonard Marshall have been diagnosed as having signs of CTE.
The three former stars have spent the last three months at UCLA undergoing brain scans and clinical evaluations which revealed a buildup of tau, an abnormal protein that strangles brain cells in areas that control memory, emotions and other functions. Before, the only way to identify CTE was through post-death autopsies, which were performed on more than 50 ex-NFL players, including Hall of Famer Mike Webster and All-Pro Junior Seau, who committed suicide last year. The tests revealed such tau concentrations. Diagnosing CTE in the living is a promising step that can help doctors develop a treatment.
Hall of Famer and former Dallas Cowboy running back Tony Dorsett shared with “Outside the Lines” the symptoms that led him to seek testing: memory loss, depression and suicidal thoughts.
Dorsett, 59, who had a 12-year playing career, said he struggled to remember why he was on his October 21 flight to Los Angeles for testing and where he was going. Dorsett says that this is common when he travels and his home life is worsening as he is prone to outbursts at his wife and daughters.
“It’s painful, man, for my daughters to say they’re scared of me.” After a long pause, he tearfully reiterated, “It’s painful.”
Dorsett does not know how many concussions he has suffered, but acknowledges that they are numerous and wants answers to explain his cognitive and emotional difficulties.
“My quality of living has changed drastically and it deteriorates every day,” he said.
Joe DeLameilleure, 62, played in the NFL for 13-years as an offensive lineman for the Bills and Browns, and believes that between games and practices he has endured tens of thousands of blows to his head and has had at least 100 concussions.
DeLameilleure told OTL, “I can guarantee you my CTE, my tau, came from hits, came from blows to the head.”
DeLameilleure’s symptoms include: anxiety, chronic insomnia, and like Dorsett, mood swings and suicidal thoughts.
“When I sit still for any length of time, I get depressed for no reason,” DeLamielleure said. “I have CTE. Let’s see what the heck we can do about it.”
Now that doctors can detect CTE in living individuals they are optimistic and excited about the potential of finding treatments and possibly even a cure. The NFL still declines to comment except for asserting that there is not enough evidence to link football and CTE or other brain damage. The NFL denied the consequences of concussions for years, disputing research from accomplished doctors, until the league reversed its position in 2009, acknowledging a scientific connection between football and long-term brain damage.