Doctor: Hernandez’s brain was severely damaged by disease

Ann McKee, director Boston University's center for research into the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, addresses an audience on the school's campus Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017 about the study of NFL football player Aaron Hernandez's brain, projected on a screen, behind right, in Boston. McKee says Hernandez suffered severe damage to parts of the brain that play an important role in memory, impulse control and behavior. The cross section of the brain projected behind left is labeled a normal 27 year old. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

By Alanna Durkin Richer
Associated Press

BOSTON (AP) — Former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez suffered substantial damage to parts of the brain that affect memory, judgment and behavior from the most severe case of a degenerative disease linked to head blows ever found in someone so young, a researcher said Thursday.
Dr. Ann McKee, director of Boston University’s CTE Center, stressed she could not “connect the dots” between the brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy and the behavior of the 27-year-old who hanged himself in April while serving life in prison for murder.
But McKee said CTE had significantly impacted key parts of Hernandez’s brain, including the hippocampus — which is associated with memory — and the frontal lobe, which is involved in impulse control, judgment and behavior.
“We can say collectively, in our collective experience, that individuals with CTE — and CTE of this severity — have difficulty with impulse control, decision-making, inhibition of impulses or aggression, often emotional volatility and rage behaviors,” said McKee, who has studied hundreds of brains from football players, college athletes and even younger players, donated after their deaths.
Hernandez hanged himself in prison days after he was acquitted in the 2012 drive-by shootings of two men in Boston and just hours before his former teammates visited the White House to celebrate their latest Super Bowl victory.
Prosecutors contended he gunned the two men down after one accidentally spilled a drink on him in a nightclub — and then got a tattoo of a handgun and the words “God Forgives” to commemorate the crime.
He had been serving a life sentence without parole in the 2013 killing of semi-professional football player Odin Lloyd when he killed himself.
Hernandez, who said he was innocent, did not raise CTE in his defense at either trial.
CTE, which can only be diagnosed in an autopsy, has been found in former members of the military, football players and boxers and others who suffered repeated head trauma.
BU researchers confirmed in September that Hernandez was diagnosed with Stage 3, out of 4, of the disease. But McKee had not publicly discussed her findings until a conference at the university on Thursday.
After Hernandez’s CTE diagnosis, his attorneys filed a lawsuit against the NFL and football helmet maker Riddell, accusing them of failing to warn Hernandez about the dangers of football. The lawsuit, which seeks damages for Hernandez’s young daughter, said he experienced a “chaotic and horrendous existence” because of his disease.
While the outside of Hernandez’s brain appeared normal, the inside was riddled with CTE, said McKee, who showed images of Hernandez’s brain next to those of a typical 27-year-old.
In Hernandez’s brain, there was evidence of previous small hemorrhages, which is associated with head impacts, she said. Other parts, like the hippocampus, had begun to shrink and large holes were found in his brain’s membrane, McKee said.
Before Hernandez, the youngest brain they’ve examined that showed such severe CTE damage was 46 years old, McKee said.
“These are very unusual findings to see in an individual of this age,” McKee said. “We’ve never seen this in our 468 brains, except in individuals some 20 years older,” she said.
Hernandez inherited a genetic profile that may have made him more susceptible to the disease, McKee said.
Follow Alanna Durkin Richer @aedurkinricher .


  1. All this data coming out and high school, college, and professional teams still continue to implement new and aggressive developmental dietary and work out programs that make players bigger, faster, stronger, and meaner than ever before. Maybe it is time to outlaw football players from working out in weight rooms during the football season, including spring and summer camps. Players are just too big, fast, and powerful now. Changes need to be made to the game. Players do not have to be superhuman for fans to enjoy watching the game or for players to play the game and stay brain healthy. But coaches all want a competitive edge over the next coach and program as the expense of the players in most cases. The sport is not headed in the right direction and the player developmental processes of the sport need to be evaluated all the way down to youth leagues, and changes need to be made to supplement use and physical development programs at all levels of the game, if the game is going to survive in the future. Major, major lawsuits are coming if changes are not made and they will put an end to this great game if action is not taken soon to fix this health problem for players. We certainly do not want any more Aaron Hernandez types walking around football fields.

  2. Rick, noble thoughts, but how do you tell football players not to workout? It is a violent game, and, frankly, a big part of why so many of us want to watch. And there are alot of rules now, like late hit on QB rules, and especially targeting, that could help. Perhaps better equipment will continue to be produced. But I think less people are letting their boys play now because of this.

    • Understand your view, but a football player can get in shape and toned without growing from 270 lbs. to 350 lbs. in a year or two when that player arrives on campus. I am saying, stay near THE 270 lb. range and play. But coaches just keep pushing the BIG and STRONG bar to no end. It is taking its toll on these kids from my view.

  3. On another note, I thought the background on Hernandez was that his father died when he was a teen, and he later became anti-social and gang-affiliated. And that Urban knew that when he recruited Hernandez.
    It is a big jump to say that Hernandez lack of empathy for others, and his rage, was caused by CTE. Maybe it partly WAS, but how do you quantify that? He was already a bad actor in Gainesville, so did his CTE pre-date his time at UF? Perhaps it is a factor, but many with CTE, damaged as they are, are non-violent.
    Since there is currently no way to diagnose CTE without autopsy, many questions, such as what did Hernandez’ brain look like when he was gang-bangin’ as a teen, cannot be answered yet.

  4. Steve quit with the cheap shots at Urban. Do you have any idea how many recruits are affiliated with gangs when they are recruited. Not to mention how many grow up without any form of a father figure. To imply that Urban did something other coaches don’t do come on man.

  5. This is a sad and serious disease. I’m not going to make the jump that it would make you murder someone unless you had some issues that made you predisposed. I think Hernandez was a troubled kid and a troubled man. He was able to bottle that up and maintain himself to a point at a younger age. However, i think his childhood always had him drawn to the inclusion and violence of gangs. The CTE probably exacerbated the issue and, as he lost impulse control, he became more and more violent and he cared less and less about the consequences or others.

  6. Derek, I didn’t “take a cheap shot” at Urban. I just made a statement of something well documented. I didn’t mean to demean Urban, in fact, I know he tried to help Hernandez, one thing that was tried was having him room with Tebow for awhile. And I didn’t say anything about other coaches at all.

  7. Take the facemask off. Or at least substantially reduce the comfort/protection of the helmet back to the levels they were in the 70-80’s. They are using their head as a weapon, and the brain is taking the brunt of the damage. Similarly to the aluminum bat advancing beyond the point of safety, and then having to be toned back down, so is the case with the football helmet.