In a final note to his family in February, just before the 50-year-old former NFL star committed suicide, Dave Duerston ended his goodbyes with a simple request: "Please, see that my brain is given to the N.F.L.’s brain bank."
Duerson, the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year in 1987, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest. In the months leading up to his death, he complained about symptoms consistent with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (C.T.E.) - a degenerative brain condition that occurs in individuals subjected to multiple concussions and other forms of head injury. Some two dozen retired NFL players are known to suffer from the disease.
Duerson's request was ultimately fulfilled, with his brain arriving at the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at Boston University School of Medicine some time after his death.
“It’s tragic that Dave Duerson took his own life, but it’s very meaningful that he recognized the symptoms of the disorder — it validates this condition,” Dr. Ann McKee, the neuropathologist who examined Duerson’s brain, told the NY Times.
According to the results of the study, McKee found indisputable evidence that Duerson suffered from C.T.E., with physical signs of severe damage to the parts of the brain that manage judgment, inhibition, impulse control, mood and memory. She added that the former NFL star, who suffered from 10 concussions during his 11 seasons, might still be alive had such symptoms been absent.
"We hope these findings will contribute more to the understanding of CTE," the NFL said in a release. "Our Head, Neck and Spine Medical Committee will study today's findings, and as a league we will continue to support the work of the scientists at the Boston University Center and elsewhere to address this issue in a forthright and effective way."
The CSTE Brain Bank currently studies the brains of more than 70 athletes and military veterans - with over 200 additional sports professionals signed up to donate their own after death. Last year, the NFL contributed $1M to the group to help finance further research.
"We obviously are very interested in the center's research on the long-term effects of head trauma in athletes," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said at the time. "It is our hope this research will lead to a better understanding of these effects and also to developing ways to help detect, prevent and treat these injuries."
At today's press conference, Duerson's son Tregg made a statement on behalf of the family, saying that he hopes such research leads to a safer game of football.
He added: “It is my greatest hope that his death will not be in vain and that through this research, his legacy will live on and others won’t have to suffer in the same manner.”