Former Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver, Chris Henry, died last December when he fell out of a vehicle during a domestic dispute. He was only 26 years of age. Shockingly, after performing an autopsy of Henry’s brain, the Brain Injury Research Institute announced on Monday that Mr. Henry had already developed chronic traumatic encephalopothy ("C.T.E."), the progressive brain disease whose recent discovery in some retired N.F.L. players, such as Andre Waters, raised important concerns about football’s long-term health effects.
This finding is scary because Henry developed C.T.E. in his mid-20s and was not known as a big hitter or concussion sufferer. Indeed, most of the 21 other players who were posthumously diagnosed with C.T.E. were big hitting safeties, linebackers, or lineman. Caused exclusively by brain trauma, C.T.E. cannot be diagnosed in a living person; only microscopic examinations of brain tissue can identify the protein deposits and other abnormalities that mark the disease. So active players who might react to the Henry finding by seeking a test before continuing their careers must make do with unknowns.
Like many of the other players found to have had C.T.E. after their deaths, Henry had behavioral problems in his final years that might have been at least partly a result of the disease, which is linked to depression, poor decision-making and substance abuse. He was arrested five times in a 28-month stretch for incidents involving assault, driving under the influence of alcohol and marijuana possession. The league suspended him several times for violating its personal-conduct policy.
The researchers at the Institute plan to continue to investigate this disturbing case. They know that Henry never reported any concussions in his two years at West Virginia University and that he was never diagnosed with a concussion in the N.F.L. They plan on investigating whether Henry suffered any concussions in high school. It will be interesting to follow this sad saga.