Forensic pathologist Benet Omalu — who first identified chronic brain damage as a factor in the deaths of some NFL players — participated in the autopsy of former All-Pro linebacker Junior Seau, who died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest.
ESPN.com reports that Omalu assisted in the autopsy because of his experience with NFL players and brain injuries.
Seau’s family will allow his brain to be studied “to help other individuals down the road.”
Omalu’s investigation may help determine whether the future Hall of Famer’s suicide could be related to the growing link between football and concussions.
Seau, 43, spent 20 years as a linebacker in the NFL and played for the San Diego Chargers, Miami Dolphins and the New England Patriots.
Omalu, the chief medical officer for San Joaquin County (Calif.), is credited with identifying Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). That’s a neurological disorder stemming from repeated head trauma in several NFL players who have died. CTE can lead to erratic behavior and is linked to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
It’ll take 4-6 weeks to determine whether Seau actually suffered from CTE. ESPN.com reports that Seau’s brain will remain with the medical examiner.
Omalu co-founded the Brain Injury Research Institute, which studies the impact of concussions. Meantime, Boston University’s Sports Legacy Institute wants to study Seau’s brain as well. The NFL provides funding to SLI. The decision of who will study the Seau’s brain hasn’t been made.
The issue of brain damage in the NFL began in 2002, when Omalu conducted the autopsy on former Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster.
He discovered widespread brain trauma that appeared to be related to Webster’s 17 years in the NFL. Webster died of a heart attack when he was 50. But he displayed years of bizarre and erratic behavior.
The NFL initially dismissed Omalu’s findings of “gridiron dementia” in players such as Webster, former Steeler Terry Long and former Philadelphia Eagle Andre Waters. The league has since acknowledged a connection.
More than 1,500 players have sued the NFL. They say the league hid the link between repeated concussions and brain damage.