Duerson Suicide Due to Repeated Traumatic Brain Injuries

Duerson Suicide Due to Repeated Traumatic Brain Injuries

The public once knew Dave Duerson as the starting safety on the Chicago Bears’ 1985 impenetrable defense. Today, he is more famous for his February 17, 2011 suicide. In the dark hours before dawn, Duerson shot himself in the chest. His body was found the next morning.

Unexplainable Behavior from Duerson

In an interview with USA Today, Duerson’s ex-wife Alicia described a 10-year downward spiral as her then husband began exhibiting uncharacteristically violent behavior. Dave began suffering from depression and showed declining reasoning skills.

The couple was married for over 20 years before divorcing in 2008. At the time, Alicia did not understand what caused the man she loved to change so dramatically. She recalls her feelings then. “He’s a different person and you don’t know why. The man I knew was not there anymore.” She added, “If I knew, I would have helped him.”[1]

Autopsy Reveals Cause of Duerson’s Problems

Alicia soon received answers to her questions. Duerson’s family donated his brain to a Boston University research study on Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). The report returned with a positive diagnosis for the terrifying disease, which is common in individuals who have been subjected to multiple concussions or head injury. Suddenly, Duerson’s personality changes made sense to Alicia. She finally understood what changed her husband and destroyed her marriage.

Mental Health Related Deaths in Other Players Studied

Duerson was the 14th player confirmed with CTE out of 15 football players examined by the researchers. Four of the players died from circumstances thought to originate from CTE. Duerson was one of two suicides. Another player died in a gun accident and a fourth suffered a drug overdose.

There is no way to diagnose CTE except through postmortem autopsy. Eleven more NFL players have donated their brains, which still await examination. Boston University has commitments from 128 living current or retired players to donate their brains when they pass away. Until more brains are studied, researchers may not know how widespread the problem might be.

Other Players Worry about CTE

The Duerson findings did not come as a surprise to many NFL players and veterans. The study simply enhanced their existing concerns. Chidi Ahanotu, veteran Tampa Bay player now age 40, said, “It makes you worry as a player — I would imagine all of us have it. To what degree, I don’t know. But I don’t know how you can’t think that.” [2]

Future Research Goals

If researchers find many more cases of CTE in the remaining brains to be studied, Ahanotu’s worst fears may be confirmed. However, if researchers find more healthy brains among the players, it could lead to more studies. Researchers will try to identify what genetic or anatomical factors helped those players remain healthy.

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If you or someone you love suffers from a chronic traumatic brain condition or a severe traumatic brain injury, contact our experienced attorneys. We will meet with you at no cost, discuss your case in detail and help you decide if you should file a brain injury lawsuit against the wrongdoer.


[1] http://www.usatoday.com/sports/columnist/lopresti/2011-05-23-dave-alicia-duerson-brain-injury-nfl_N.htm

[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/08/sports/football/08duerson/?_r=2

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