In the end, Dave Duerson's worst fears were confirmed.
Researchers at Boston University found brain damage and signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy in his brain. Before his suicide in February, Duerson suspected that he had problems with his brain, and he asked for it to be included in the study that is being conducted on former football players' brains.
The researchers noted that Duerson had experienced classic symptoms of CTE during the final years of his life like short-term memory problems, impulse control and headaches. They also found markers on his brain consistent with other football players who were in the study. CTE happens after repeated hits to the head, the kind of hits that Duerson was known for delivering.
Duerson's family said that he had 10 concussions during his 11-year playing career, which included seven seasons with the Bears. Duerson's hard-hitting style was what made that career so long and successful, but it also took its toll on his life.
Before 2007, Duerson had a picturesque post-football career. Still beloved in Chicago as one of the Super Bowl Bears, he ran a successful food-supply business and had a prominent role as an alumnus of Notre Dame. But then he was arrested for domestic violence, forced to resign from Notre Dame's board, and faced financial difficulties with his business.
He knew something was wrong. A man doesn't turn on a dime from being a pillar of the community to an albatross around his family's neck.
Near the time of his death, he told his ex-wife that he had memory problems and blurred vision. He shot himself in the chest and left a note asking that his brain be studied, particularly the left side.
This study confirms what Duerson had suspected. His brain had fallen prey to CTE, just like football players Chris Henry, Lou Creekmur and Shane Dronett before him. Like Duerson, Dronett committed suicide. Henry died when chasing after a truck driven by his fiancee.
As an active member of the NFL Players Association, Duerson was keenly aware of the problems faced by his brothers-in-football. It's why he could see that something was wrong. It's why he asked for his brain to be dissected and studied by the best in the field.
Though studying football players' brains is invaluable, the researchers emphasized that suicide does not help their efforts.
“It does not help our research or mission for people to take their own life,” said Dr. Robert Stern, a CSTE co-director. “There is reason for hope. Research will lead to successful treatment of the disease.”
Duerson's suicide was a tragedy, but prevention and treatment of this disease that wrecks the lives of too many athletes is one way to ensure that he did not die in vain.