N.F.L. Great Ken Stabler Had Brain Disease C.T.E.

Pro Football by John Branch, February 3, 2016.

Shortly before he died last July, the former N.F.L. quarterback Ken Stablerwas rushed away by doctors, desperate to save him, in a Mississippi hospital. His longtime partner followed the scrum to the elevator, holding his hand. She told him that she loved him. Stabler said that he loved her, too.

“I turned my head to wipe the tears away,” his partner, Kim Bush, said recently. “And when I looked back, he looked me dead in the eye and said, ‘I’m tired.’ ”

They were the last words anyone in Stabler’s family heard him speak.

“I knew that was it,” Bush said. “I knew that he had gone the distance. Because Kenny Stabler was never tired.

The day after Stabler died on July 8, a victim of colon cancer at age 69, his brain was removed during an autopsy and ferried to scientists in Massachusetts. It weighed 1,318 grams, or just under three pounds. Over several months, it was dissected for clues, as Stabler had wished, to help those left behind understand why his mind seemed to slip so precipitously in his final years.

On a scale of 1 to 4, Stabler had high Stage 3 chronic traumaticencephalopathy, or C.T.E., the degenerative brain disease believed to be caused by repeated blows to the head, according to researchers at Boston University. The relationship between blows to the head and brain degeneration is still poorly understood, and some experts caution that other factors, like unrelated mood problems or dementia, might contribute to symptoms experienced by those later found to have had C.T.E.

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