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Autopsy results on Aaron Hernandez reveal big problems ahead for NFL

Jan 1, 2012; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez (81). Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports.

The rubber is about to meet the road for the NFL regarding players who had/have a history of multiple concussions and the development of CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). Shayanna Jenkins-Hernandez filed suit against the New England Patriots and the NFL on behalf of her daughter Avielle Janelle Hernandez on Thursday, after autopsy results on Hernandez showed signs of severe CTE, the likes of which have never been documented in a 27 year-old.

In April 2017, Hernandez committed suicide in jail a day after being acquitted in a second murder trial against him. He was already in prison after being convicted of murdering his friend Odin Lloyd only a few months after signing a $40M contract with the Patriots in 2013.

While the NFL has been dancing around the CTE issue for years, this case stands at least a reasonable chance of forcing the NFL’s hand in terms of accepting liability for the mounting data of supporting evidence that playing football increases the risk of developing CTE over time. The whole issue is almost reminiscent of how, for decades, the tobacco industry tried to hide increasing evidence that smoking caused major health problems such as cancer and heart disease.

Photo from abc7news.com.

Like the tobacco industry, the NFL is a multi-billion dollar industry with a great deal at stake if the link between playing football (as it is played today) and the development of CTE can be clinically established. At this point in time the correlation between the variables has been established in a landmark study recently released by the Journal of the American Medical Association. We know the relationship exists, we just don’t know if it is a cause and effect relationship at this point.

Like tobacco, where the link may take several decades to show itself, CTE may take years for symptoms to become evident. However, unlike tobacco the symptoms of CTE sometimes involve behavioral changes that become difficult to sort out. Aggression, violence, suicide, irritability and depression can all be hallmark signs of a brain damaged by too many hits to the head.

What does this mean for the future of the NFL as a professional sport? Will the multi-billion dollar industry take the same tactic by obfuscating scientific findings for as long as possible?

March 18, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA; NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Credit: Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports.

One would certainly hope those in charge of strategic planning for the NFL would not want to go down that same “tobacco road”. Some in the media theorize the reason media ratings are down for the NFL over the last couple of years is because of Colin Kaepernick’s political stance, or that the political environment is somehow drawing people away from watching professional football.

Perhaps another reason might be because some football fans struggle with the ethics of supporting a multi-billion dollar industry attempting to control the implications of scientific data about CTE, just like the tobacco industry tried to control the narrative about smoking. Some fans, myself included, will be watching to see how all of this all unfolds with a jaded eye.

Editor’s babble: Thanks for taking the time to read and support our blog. If you’re a Bills fan and are interested in psychobabble and the occasional snark, you can follow me on Twitter @robynmundyWYO.  


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Robyn Mundy

About Robyn Mundy

Robyn Mundy is Editor-in-Chief of the BillsMafia blog at BillsMafia.com. She's a retired oncology nurse & psychotherapist who loves to write about her life-long passion for the Buffalo Bills, and occasionally something of clinical or social relevance. Robyn lives with her husband Gary and their dogs in the foothills of the glorious Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming. Robyn is also a proud founding sponsor. Follow her on Twitter at @robynmundyWYO.

4 thoughts on “Autopsy results on Aaron Hernandez reveal big problems ahead for NFL

  1. Other than the obvious answer of ‘because they have money’, why is this all on the Patriots and NFL? Dude only played 38 games in the NFL. How many games did he play in junior high, high school, and college? No doubt the NFL would have contributed, but if he had advanced CTE, he was probably well on his way before he ever reached the NFL. If anything, this should be more a warning about whether you should let your kid play football.

    • Hi Joma,

      Exactly right! However, think this through a little more. If parents refuse to let their kids play football (like you and many others who are saying the same thing), what happens to the sport? The point of this article is to illustrate why a case like this one could be bad news for the NFL in the long run.

      Even if Shayanna Jenkins-Hernandez wins a settlement on behalf of her daughter, you set a precedent in the eyes of the law. This will be a hard case to prove in court… that CTE caused Hernandez to commit suicide. However, the NFL’s legal team will be sweating bullets on this one, you can be sure of that much.

      If the NFL settles this case, how many more will come out of the woodwork? This case opens the door for many more if the NFL loses or settles for big $$. And heaven forbid if the medical establishment can figure out a way to confirm a CTE diagnosis while the patient is alive. It’s coming, and when it does there will be more players quitting the game long before their bodies wear out.

      The game as we know it now is in jeopardy. I expect sooner or later for kickoffs to go bye-bye completely. Unless some miracle helmet is designed that will absorb the hits, the game will have to change.

      As an aside… I would be more worried about having a young daughter playing soccer. Go look up the risk factors for concussions in girls who play soccer. The head butting of the ball needs to go.

      I have a granddaughter who is almost ten who plays soccer and won a state title in swimming the 100 meter breast stroke (yes, I’m proud :). I’ve begged her mother to consider keeping her focus on swimming instead of playing a sport that has a higher rate of concussions for girls than football. We need to also focus medical research on why some individuals are more prone to concussions than others.

      Bottom line, you’re response about thinking twice about letting your child play football supports my belief that the NFL has some serious challenges to deal with in the near future.

      Thanks for all your contributions! Love having the discourse you guys bring here on a regular basis.

      Much love,

      Robyn

  2. I’m interested in seeing the results of O.J.’s brain. In public, he had a great, lovable persona. At home with his then wife Nicole, he was a deranged lunatic (as heard on the 911 calls).

    With Hernandez having stage 3 CTE at his age is concerning and troubling. We’re already seeing NFL players retire earlier than before, some with only one to three years in the league.

    As far as an impact to the league, it will be interesting to see what happens. There will be parents that dont want their kids to play tackle football. In regards to players and their longevity, some of it will be money based especially with the potential to earn millions of dollars between an NFL contract and merchandise. Is the risk worth the reward?

  3. Good stuff, Robyn. I agree. Personally, I don’t think football is going anywhere, but the number of participants and quality could very well suffer in the future. Thanks for all you do here and being accepting and supportive of even the jaded Bills fans among us.