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Ex-NFL WR Vincent Jackson diagnosed with Stage 2 CTE following death at age 38

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Vincent Jackson, the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and San Diego Chargers wide receiver who was found dead in a hotel room in February at just 38 years old, had Stage 2 CTE at the time of his death, his family announced in the New York Times on Thursday.

Jackson's widow, Lindsey, donated her husband's brain to the CTE Center at Boston University so it could be studied. What they discovered, according to Dr. Anne McKee, who did the study on Jackson's brain, was “mild frontal lobe atrophy” and a “split in the internal membrane,” as well as multiple lesions on the brain. That would have caused symptoms like memory loss, mood swings, and difficulties solving problems and completing daily chores.

Lindsey told the Times that her husband had been showing these symptoms since 2016, his final season in the NFL.

She said that, beginning with his final year in the N.F.L., her husband began to forget conversations. He showed symptoms of depression for about six months after leaving the league, and without the structure of the football season, he no longer had to temper his drinking. By 2018, when he was 35, his attention span had diminished and he had difficulty solving problems. She said he became paranoid, shutting the blinds when he was home.

When the pandemic hit, Lindsey said that Jackson's stress and drinking increased. He had several business ventures, like restaurants, and worried about having to lay people off. His favorite activity, networking, wasn't the same anymore since every business meeting was virtual. By Jan. 2021 his drinking got so bad that his young children began to notice, which is when Jackson moved to the hotel where he eventually died.

Jackson's body was found by housekeepers on Feb. 15, just a week after his former team won the Super Bowl. According to Lindsey, the Bucs' successful 2020 season had been a source of joy for him, but it had also reminded him of the losing seasons he had during his five years with the team.

Jackson never had a diagnosed concussion

Jackson never had a diagnosed concussion during his 12-year NFL career, something he said was "fortunate." But while diagnosed concussions are contributors to CTE, less severe but repeated hits can also cause damage. According to the CTE Center at Boston University, around 20 percent of people who are diagnosed with CTE never had a diagnosed concussion.

The likely culprit for Jackson was 20 years of games and practices as a wide receiver, taking smaller hits nearly daily that began to add up to severe damage over time. Lindsey told the Times that the family didn't know those kinds of hits could result in CTE.

“I think the message is, if you played for a long time and you’re experiencing symptoms, it’s very likely that this is what it is,” she said this month from her husband’s “man cave,” where five televisions, a wet bar and a Christmas tree decorated the room. “I didn’t know that; Vincent didn’t know that. We thought it was just concussions, and we’d love for people to realize it’s more than that.”

Jackson was aware of CTE, and had even read studies on it, though he never discussed his symptoms with his wife. With the benefit of hindsight, she believes he may have had some idea about what was happening to him and why.

“When I look back at the different conversations we’ve had, I feel like he probably knew that there was something going on without actually vocalizing it,” Lindsey told the Times.