SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Late last year, former Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas was found dead in his in Roswell, Georgia, home. It is now being reported that he had stage 2 CTE at the time of his death.

According to the Boston University Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) Center, CTE is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in people with a history of repetitive brain trauma (often athletes), including symptomatic concussions as well as asymptomatic sub concussive hits to the head that do not cause symptoms. 

Known to affect boxers since the 1920s, CTE has also been found in military veterans, soccer, wrestling, rugby and hockey players such as Tyler Amburgey, who was posthumously diagnosed with CTE. Amburgey was 29 when he died of COVID-19 in August of 2020.

For some, Thomas’ diagnosis is no surprise as studies have linked football to dangerous head injuries. When Boston University scientists conducted autopsies on 202 deceased football players, 99% of NFL players were found to have suffered CTE.

Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (88) runs with the football after a catch during the second quarter of an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs (AP Photo/ Jack Dempsey)

Although CTE itself does not cause death, it changes behavior and personality. The symptoms of CTE include memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, anxiety, suicidality, parkinsonism and, eventually, progressive dementia. These symptoms often begin years or even decades after the last brain trauma or end of active athletic involvement.

In an interview on “Good Morning America,” Thomas’ dad Bobby said he noticed changes in his son. “He was paranoid like all the time, but memory loss, I saw that as well. Every single day he complained about having a headache.”

Thomas’ mom Katina Stuckey Smith added: “His mood would change. And he would also isolate himself sometimes. He was ‘Like, mom, I don’t know what’s going on with my body. You know, I got to get myself together.’ And he said, ‘I don’t feel like myself anymore.'”

Currently, CTE can only be diagnosed after death by postmortem neuropathological analysis. There is no known way to use MRI, CT or other brain imaging methods to diagnose CTE, according to the Boston University CTE Center.

There is also no cure for CTE at this time. However, the CTE Center is currently conducting ongoing clinical research aimed at discovering how CTE develops and progresses, risk factors for the development of the disease and how to diagnose the disease during life.

Although CTE and other brain injuries are alarming, the Concussion Institute at Northside Hospital Duluth says that the negative, long-term consequences of concussions in general can typically be avoided with appropriate physical conditioning, coaching, equipment, education, awareness, evaluation and treatment.

Over time, the National Football League has also taken measures to prevent brain injuries by establishing rules such as eliminating the blindside block and expanding protection of defenseless players. It is prohibited for a blocker to initiate forcible contact with his head, shoulder or forearm when his path is toward or parallel to his own end line. Also, defensive players are prohibited from lowering their heads to make forcible contact with the facemask, or with the “hairline” or forehead part of the helmet, against an opponent, instead of only with the top/crown.

Concerning helmet safety, the NFL and NFL Players Association (NFLPA) released results of their 2022 helmet laboratory testing in which jointly appointed biomechanical engineers ranked 47 helmet models, including six new models. Five of the six new models tested ranked in the “top-performing” group. This was nine times what it had been before the start of the helmet testing program in 2015.

“NFL players are the winners here. Helmets keep getting better and they will continue to get better in the years ahead,” said Jeff Miller, NFL executive vice president overseeing Player Health and Safety, in a press release. “Our joint engineers have used NFL data to refine this testing program and ensure performance in the lab correlates directly to the equipment’s safety performance where it matters – on the field of play.”

On donating Thomas’ brain for research, Smith was hesitant at first. Then, she recalled a moment with her son.

“I remembered a conversation DT and I had where he said that, ‘If anything ever happens to me, I want to be able to help other players,'” Smith said during the GMA interview.