There has been increased awareness surrounding traumatic brain injuries in recent years. Nevertheless, the recent documentary on Netflix called The Killer Inside insightfully details the tragic downfall of NFL tight end Aaron Hernandez. The former Patriot tight end was convicted of murdering a friend in 2015 and then in 2017 committed suicide in jail. The documentary uses interviews with his friends and family, teammates, journalists, and his defense attorney to reveal a startling story.

Amidst these interviews comes information from an autopsy that found that Hernandez suffered a severe case of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) resulting from numerous blows to the head from playing football. Doctors are now diagnosing this neurodegenerative disease in those involved in football, hockey, rugby, boxing, wrestling, and other contact sports.

The four stages of CTE

Unfortunately, victims can only be formally diagnosed after an autopsy, but there are symptoms:

  • Stage 1: Difficulty focusing and recurring headaches mark this first stage.
  • Stage 2: This involves mood swings, depression, memory loss, impulsive or erratic behavior.
  • Stage 3: This includes a reduction of executive function (goal-oriented actions), an inability to organize and regulate their behavior, and more advanced versions of the above symptoms.
  • Stage 4: This builds on the above and includes paranoid tendencies, aggression and dementia-like symptoms.

No simple answers in the documentary

Some critics argued that the film took certain liberties in its search for the “truth.” According to CNN, “While there’s a tendency to indict football, at every level, for exploiting young talent, there are so many variables baked into Hernandez’s particular tale as to muddy that message.”

Nevertheless, no one can dispute that the former player had CTE, a disease caused by trauma to the head and body. While Hernandez is an extreme case, many families live every day with the fallout of sick loved ones who played high school, college or professional sports. Sometimes this happened in organizations willing to ignore signs of illness because it is in the best interest of the organization if that individual kept playing.

Holding others responsible

More is learned each day about CTE, TBI and other neurodegenerative disorders, but it’s too late for many victims. Both the NFL and the NCAA have set up multi-million dollar funds to help victims suffering from head trauma to help families care for loved ones. Those families living with these and similar injuries may wish to speak with an attorney who handles these types of injuries. These legal professionals can provide families with insights about a potential lawsuit and employing other legal strategies.