NFL Hall of Fame Player Diagnosed with Degenerative Brain Disease

  The Center for Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (CSTE) at Boston University School of Medicine has accounted that Lou Creekmur, a recently deceased former NFL Hall of Fame player, had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) when he died. Creekmur is the tenth former NFL player to be diagnosed with the disease caused by traumatic brain injury. CTE can only be diagnosed by examining the brain after death.

CTE is caused by repetitive head trauma and characterized by the buildup of a toxic protein called tau. This protein leads to neurofibrillary tangles in the brain, which impair normal brain function. CTE may cause symptoms similar to those of Alzheimer’s disease - memory problems, emotional instability, depression, etc. - but CTE eventually progresses to full-blown dementia.

Creekmur had played on the offensive line for the Detroit Lions. An eight-time Pro Bowl player, he was famous for breaking his nose 13 times while playing without a facemask. He died on July 5, 2009 from complications of dementia. He had suffered from dementia for 30 years, during which time he experienced cognitive and behavioral problems such as loss of memory, loss of concentration, and angry outbursts.

Co-director of the CSTE Anne McKee, MD, said, “This is an important case because we are confident many CTE cases are misdiagnosed as Alzheimer’s disease. By examining his brain, I was able to confirm that there was absolutely no sign of Alzheimer’s disease or any other type of neurodegenerative disease except for severe CTE. This is the most advanced case of CTE I’ve seen in a football player. His brain changes were similar to those of profoundly affected professional boxers.”

James Wessler of the Alzheimer’s Association of Massachusetts added, “This is a very important finding that could explain the underlying cause of dementia in countless individuals who have had histories of repetitive head trauma.”

"The U.S. House Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing on the football head injury crisis on Oct. 28, and we feel that this evidence should be part of the discussion. The long-term consequences of brain trauma in sports are a tremendous public health problem. CTE is the only fully preventable cause of dementia. We need to make changes to the game of football, at all levels of play, which will decrease the risk of CTE to both pro and amateur athletes," said CSTE co-director Robert Stern.

Creekmur participated in the NFL’s Plan 88, named for former NFL John Mackey’s number. Mackey, another Hall of Fame player, suffers from severe dementia. Plan 88 was created to provide financial support to families of former NFL players who suffer from dementia. According to his wife, Creekmur remembered “16 or 17” concussions during his time as an NFL player. There are currently around 100 former NFL players whose families receive support through Plan 88.

“Sadly, these findings do not come as a surprise,” said Dr. Elanor Perfetto, wife of former NFL player Ralph Wenzel. “For those of us who have watched our husbands deteriorate and lose their independence from progressive dementia, our hope is that this research will one day lead to changes in the game of football such that other players and their families will not have to experience the pain that we have experienced."

Parents of young football players should seriously consider these findings. Is the game of football worth the risk of permanently injuring a developing brain?

If you need the advice of an experienced Georgia brain injury lawyer, call MLN Law at 404-531-9700 to schedule a free consultation.