Some unsettling information has come to light regarding Chris Henry, the Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver who passed away in 2009. Neurologists have found that before his death, Henry had been living with significant brain damage.
From Peter Keating of ESPN The Magazine:
Chris Henry, the Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver who died in a traffic accident last year, had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) — a form of degenerative brain damage caused by multiple hits to the head — at the time of his death, according to scientists at the Brain Injury Research Institute, a research center affiliated with West Virginia University.
"We would have been very happy if the results had been negative, but multiple areas of Chris Henry's brain showed CTE," said Julian Bailes, Director of BIRI and chairman of neurosurgery at West Virginia. Bailes and his colleagues plan to present results of their forensic examination at a news conference Monday afternoon.
Researchers have now discovered CTE in the brains of more than 50 deceased former athletes, including more than a dozen NFL and college players, pro wrestler Chris Benoit and NHL player Reggie Fleming.
Now, no one can say with certainty that Henry's brain damage was caused by playing football. However, repeated blows to the head are the only known cause of CTE. "Professional football player" is a profession that requires a person to be exposed to repeated blows to the head, and that's what Henry did for a living.
The dots are there. Connect them if you want.
From there, the next question would of course be something like this: Might the brain damage have had something to do with Chris Henry's history of not-so-great decision-making? Again, from Keating's article:
"I think it did," Bailes said. "Superimposed on the acute brain injuries Chris suffered when he died, there was fairly extensive damage throughout his brain that was fully consistent with CTE. This syndrome is expressed not only as changes in the brain, but clinically, as behavioral changes. And starting with Mike Webster, we have seen common threads in these cases: emotional disturbances, depression, failed personal relationships and businesses, suicidal thoughts, sometimes alcohol or drug use."
What is there to say? There are no easy answers here, and if there were, they certainly wouldn't come from me.
There's a lot to think about, though, from Henry's own personal demons, to the consequences of a career in professional football for anyone. Chris Henry was a wide receiver who caught 119 balls in his career. By NFL standards, this is not a guy whose head took a tremendous beating. If CTE was affecting his brain, then what about the every-down middle linebacker, or the running back who gets 20-plus touches per game?
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