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Aaron Hernandez Had “Severe” CTE, According to Researchers

His family is suing the NFL and the Patriots

Aaron Hernandez Court Appearance Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Aaron Hernandez, the former Patriots tight end who died by suicide in April, was found to have advanced stages of CTE, a degenerative brain disease caused by repetitive head trauma that one NFL executive has admitted is linked to football, and his family is now suing the NFL and the New England Patriots.

Hernandez, who was convicted of first-degree murder in 2015, was found to have “the most severe case [CTE researchers] had ever seen in someone of Aaron’s age,” Hernandez’s lawyer, Jose Baez, said at a press conference Thursday. Baez also announced a federal lawsuit against both the NFL and the New England Patriots on behalf of Hernandez’s daughter, Avielle, for $20 million, claiming the league and the Patriots deprived her of companionship with her father.

Hernandez’s brain was studied by researchers at the Boston University CTE Center, including Dr. Ann McKee, who is considered one of the world’s leading CTE researchers. The team there concluded Hernandez had Stage 3 CTE, the second-highest classification, which means the 27-year-old’s brain had deteriorated enough that it was on par with 67-year-old brain trauma patients. Hernandez played in 44 games in his three-year NFL career, with his last game coming in January 2013, when he was 23 years old.

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy is a degenerative disease believed to be caused by repeated blows to the head, including sub-concussive ones. Symptoms of CTE include depression, impulsive behavior, mood changes, emotional instability, and memory loss. In July, McKee released a study that found 110 of the 111 brains of former NFL players she examined had CTE.

Hernandez was convicted for the 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd and was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Due to Massachusetts legal doctrine, that murder conviction was nullified in May because Hernandez died before his appeal was heard. He was also connected to a double killing in 2012, but was found not guilty in April. Days after that decision, Hernandez hanged himself in his prison cell.

Hernandez is not the first player in his 20s to have been found to have CTE. Former Giants safety Tyler Sash died from an accidental overdose of painkillers in September 2015, also at 27 years old, and was later discovered to have Stage 2 CTE. Former Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher, who shot and killed his girlfriend before dying by suicide in 2012, also had signs of CTE.