Chronic traumatic encephalopathy is a hot button issue in sports these days. Experts have known about it for over a century, but it was only recently that there came to be a serious public outcry over athletes suffering from mental issues later in life.
In the most basic terms possible, for those still unfamiliar with the condition: CTE comes from too many blows to the head. It doesn't depend on how many diagnosed concussions a person has, but concussions are obviously an issue. Every time an athlete sustains a blow to the head, whether or not they sustain a diagnosable concussion, there is risk for the proteins that appear in the brain due to CTE to develop.
Decades of this buildup can cause severe mental conditions such as depression, dementia and these can lead to irrational and erratic outbursts and even suicidal behavior. While CTE is most common among football and hockey players, many boxers have been noted as having the condition and even baseball players have been diagnosed with CTE type degenerative conditions.
This is a list of the most well-known instances of athletes having serious brain issues and their actions as a result of CTE. There is some disagreement among professionals, as to which athletes have CTE. Occasionally, athletes who died ages ago are speculated to have had the condition but in some cases there is no way to know.
Some very well known athletes will not be found on this list; including Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson and Lou Gehrig. These three former athletes have all been suggested to have had the condition, but do not make this list for various reasons.
Some researchers have suggested that while Gehrig had Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig Disease), he may have also had CTE, which could have sped up his degeneration. Many note the fact that Gehrig was a multi-sport athlete for much of his life and sustained many head injuries prior to his baseball career. He did not make the list because the evidence of his having CTE is just to vague and speculative.
Muhammad Ali is not here because, despite many experts suggesting he may have CTE, his doctors all insist that he suffers from Parkinson's that did not result from the condition.
Finally, while some have joked and commented that "Iron" Mike Tyson has the condition; most dismiss the theory. Many doctors think that Mike Tyson's personality is a result of something else altogether.
The fight to treat and prevent CTE is underway, but as of right now, there is very little in the way of evidence that the battle will be won or lost anytime soon. Sports leagues are cracking down on hits to the head area, but fines and suspensions are not stopping this type of contact. This list is ordered from the speculated, minor and self-diagnosed cases of CTE to those that are extremely notorious and proven.
20 20. Brett Favre
19 19. Bob Probert
18 18. Ollie Matson
17 17. Bernie Kosar
16 16. Sugar Ray Robinson
15 15. John Mackey
14 14. Joe Louis
13 13. Reg Fleming
12 12. Andrew "Test" Martin
11 11. Dave Duerson
10 10. Chris Henry
9 9. Derek Boogaard, Wade Belak and Rick Rypien
In the spring and summer of 2011, Derek Boogard, Wade Belak and Rick Rypien all died. All were tough guys in the NHL. Rypien and Belak committed suicide while Boogaard died of a substance overdose. All three had a history of concussions, and while Boogaard was the only one to have had full blown CTE, the other two were suspected of having suffered from the condition, given their chronic depression and history of concussions.
8 8. Andre Waters
7 7. Mike Webster
6 6. Owen Thomas
5 5. Ryan Freel
Ryan Freel is the first baseball player to be diagnosed with CTE. He played nine years in MLB and retired after a series of injuries. While playing center field he sustained a serious head injury while chasing a fly ball. Just months later he took a ball to the head and sustained a concussion.
4 4. Nathan Stiles
The youngest deceased player to have suffered from CTE, Stiles was in high school when he died. Stiles was a running back playing in his senior year for his high school, when he sustained a serious hit to the head, and later died from second-impact syndrome. Basically, he sustained head trauma too soon after sustaining an initial concussion.
3 3. Junior Seau
One of the greatest linebackers of all time, Junior Seau recorded over 1800 tackles, and almost 60 sacks throughout his career. He played twenty seasons in the NFL, for the San Diego Chargers, Miami Dolphins and finally the New England Patriots. Seau was a twelve time Pro Bowl selection. Seau committed suicide via gunshot wound to the chest back in 2012. His family claimed that although he rarely missed time due to injury or concussions during his career and there was no doubt among them that he had sustained head trauma throughout. For those who remember his career, he was the definition of toughness and resilience on the field.
2 2. Jovan Belcher
1 1. Chris Benoit
Chris Benoit was a Canadian wrestler who competed from the mid-1980's until 2007. In 2007, he murdered his wife and son, later committing suicide by hanging himself in his home gym. Benoit's horrific actions caused re-ignition of a couple of debates. The first of these was regarding the use of steroid and other PED's, to which many attributed his behavior. Others have claimed that Benoit had a drinking habit that more likely led to his actions.
Examination of his brain, however, led to discussion of brain trauma in professional athletes. To paraphrase the examining doctor, he had the brain of an 80 year old, and had sustained lasting damage to every section of his brain. Benoit had one of the most severe cases of CTE that examiners had ever seen. Benoit was only 40 years old.
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