Is C.T.E. a Defense for Murder?

Had his lawyers known of his brain disease, the football star Aaron Hernandez might have been able to use it as a defense for killing a friend.

Comments: 152

  1. In this country we seem eager to excuse violence and harm, prizing weapons and violence over nonviolence, compassion, and caring. Kids today are being taught that murder isn't murder. The taking of a human life is final, and it has never been OK except in extremis. No excuses. This might have been for Hernandez (who appears to have killed quite a few people) is imaginary, but the finality for each of his victims is forever.

  2. Whether we deem a person legally "guilty" is less important than how we treat that person. To protect others, it may be necessary to confine a person's movements if he is likely to harm others (or himself). especially if he suffers organic brain damage for which no psychiatric or other medical treatment is possible. Perhaps prison is the only feasible solution in some circumstances. But the purpose should not be to exact "justice" or vengeance -- an eye for an eye -- I would hope we are more enlightened than people were in the Hammurabi era, with all due deference to his contributions to civilization.

  3. Thanks Raimo. That's a bit of a different point. I'm more concerned about the normalization of violence. As a Bostonian I've had a bellyful of Hernandez on the news, and there are plenty of other CTE-damaged football players who haven't killed people who insulted them (I have heard and accept that he did change for the worse over time). The process of civilizing kids has been rented out in some cases to authorities that are harming their ability to discriminate between play (violent video games and regular TV, movies, etc.) and reality I had in my mind our marketing-based gun culture and violent video games (and the pornography of violence even in police procedurals). How is a young boy (or girl) to discern the difference between right and wrong when wrong looks so shiny and right is so much harder? How are bullies to be separated from their wolfpacks? We claim to have advanced as a civilization but despite our fancier toys - or sometimes because of them - we have become apathetic to evil. In my opinion, one of Trump's greatest harms is the way he encourages each and every one of his fans to reach for the worst in themselves and discourages the best, and be assertive about promoting greed and harm.

  4. So, with the growing body of evidence linking football and CTE, the larger question is how much longer are we going to continue to accept football as it is, and the damage to players and people hurt by said players merely as so much collateral damage? I suppose the millions of dollars involved will dent any real progress. But how many more people, how many more lives?

  5. We are Gladiators and Bull fighters and Cock fight promoters. I don't see an end to football at all at any age in any region of the US. Facts and science don't matter in any decision-making now.

  6. I suppose a treatment for CTE might be determinative in achieving the clinical diagnosis that your friend seeks. Barring that, a proven non-invasive way of testing for the presence of CTE would allow us to get around the issues of small, non-random sample size. Then you could follow those identified cases and check for behavioral issues and conduct studies in real time. I hope we get this soon. It's heart breaking to think about the implications of this on generations of our children. No one should have to mortgage their body to achieve a standard of living - even a very high one.

  7. Given the symptoms noted for CTE, which include cognitive impairment, impulsive behavior, emotional instability and violence, as well as suicidal thoughts or behavior, it seems obvious that CTE is a defense for murder under our laws. Suggests that we develop better diagnostic capabilities to identify its presence and extent well before the opportunity for a post mortem is presented. However, as with most such defenses, the subject most likely would be committed to psychiatric care in a facility that deprives him of liberty as effectively as a prison until he was pronounced cured, simply to protect the general public. Unless he were effectively medicated to treat suicidal tendencies, his situation could provoke that outcome anyway, as it apparently did with Aaron Hernandez and others. Given as well the apparent high incidence of CTE in football players and the continuing inability to diagnose it in a living brain, it could make sense to simply assume that football players suffer from it and develop a medication protocol for all of them that doesn’t harm those who don’t have it but treats the symptoms of those who do. That may be easier said than done, but at least it would be a plan. The plan might benefit as well by a transition from using human beings to directly do battle on a professional football field to an alternative that employs their talents in a virtual reality framework. The best defense against murder is that it never took place.

  8. I'm a physician, and my best friend at medical school, now a heart surgeon at an Ivy League university medical center, was an NCAA Division I offensive lineman and 2nd-team All-American. My friend and I have talked a lot in recent years about CTE and football. He remains skeptical. He points out accurately that CTE is at present a pathological diagnosis not a clinical diagnosis. In other words, certain physical abnormalities have been linked to recurrent head strikes - and to football - but to date no one has proved that those changes are linked to altered cognition or behavior. He points out that football takes young aggressive men and socializes them to be even more aggressive, shortchanges them educationally,encourages substance abuse (My friend has hair raising stories about booze and Percocet from his college days) then cuts them loose in their twenties and thirties with little means to support themselves. Even without invoking CTE it is hardly surprising that ex-NFL players have difficulties with addiction, depression and family violence.

  9. At this point, the diagnosis is based, apparently, on statistical inference...the probability that a person with these pathologic alterations (e.g., tau protein deposition) will present with clinically observable symptoms (i.e., behavioral changes). This is similar to the early awareness of the relationship between smoking and cancer. Surely much more work needs to be done, including some form of noninterventional diagnosis, including staging and behavioral characteristics. It is profoundly important that this condition be studied with emphasis on the correlation between cause and effect, including behavioral changes. Where this appears to be going is that "I once played football" will become a plausible defense for subsequent violence, including murder.

  10. Trump went on record today as complaining that NFL players aren't hitting one another hard enough. I guess he's hoping a few will die right on the field.

  11. No one should allow his child to play tackle football. The game should be illegal. But it is a multi-billion dollar industry and for that reason alone it will continue. Many little children will be trained to be football gladiators and many of them will suffer for it, for others' financial enrichment.

  12. Profs. Dillard and Tucker might be effective as defense counsel, but they fail as commentators. It is now clear that football very likely leads to brain damage, as it has long been clear that boxing does, and one can rightly raise the issue of why these "sports" (and some others) are even legal, let alone endorsed. But Aaron Hernandez's history of anti-social behavior preceded his football career, as did O. J. Simpson's. Football may not have benefitted them, except monetarily, but it didn't create their personalities. Quotes from two famous boxers come to mind: "I love to hit people" (Mike Tyson. explaining his career choice), and "Anyone who goes into boxing already has brain damage" (George Foreman).

  13. This is a ridiculous and unsupported opinion. First, there is no scientific evidence that CTE is the direct or only cause of violence among football players. Second, when, where, and how would you draw the line legally? Would you excuse a high school football player from rape? Would this require performing a brain biopsy? What stage of CTE (which at this point is only a pathological diagnosis) is required to qualify for legal exemption? Finally, if you decide that CTE is cause for legal exemption from crimes, what responsibility should football programs at all levels bear for the crimes? In other words, would it then be a crime to organize a football team or game?

  14. I have been following the news stories of CTE and football closely and in my nonscientific analysis find the notion that Mr. Hernandwz' violent behavior may be linked to his playing football quite plausible. There was a day when those with epilepsy were considered possessed by the devil. Scientific understanding of autism has been recent. How many children over the generations suffered without a diagnosis or treatment. I do wonder however how boxer Jake LaMotta who took thousands of punches to the head lived to age 95 .

  15. Even if the prevalence of CTE in high-impact sports were found to be high in controlled studies with randomization of subjects, the violent sports would not be banned or beyter controlled because there is too much money to be made. Football players are the coal miners of the sports conglomerates.

  16. I have empathy and compassion for anyone suffering from what would later be discovered to be CTE. However, I also look at Aaron Hernandez's entire adult life being filled with guns and violence dating back at least to when he was 17-18 years old. Given his background I'm skeptical of any argument that CTE was a primary driver of his decision to brutally murder someone. I'm in favor of better mental health services and for broader prison reform which may have been able to help Hernandez deal with CTE or any other disease/disorder he was suffering from. But under the circumstances I still look at him as a guilty murderer who made pre-meditated decisions. There seemed to be deep-rooted issues unrelated to the effects of a childhood and career in football.

  17. If you go to games, watch games, or write about games in your newspapers you are deriving a benefit from this barbarity and you are complicit in the outcome. If everyone would just ignore football it would eventually fade away. It goes without saying that, going forward, parents should not be giving their kids permission to engage in football. To do so is tantamount to child abuse.

  18. whoa! There is no doubt that Football can damage the brain and that this damage can contribute to erratic behavior. But this seems like an easy way to get away with a crime for a football player. Is it not also possible that this sport, being such a violent one, might attracts a certain type of person with a natural inclination for violent behavior and whose inhibitions are then further reduced by the brutality of football? I don't mean to suggest that all football players are violent - only that the ones who do behave violently may have been drawn to the sport in part for that reason. A mood swing is no excuse to hurt other people, and many inmates unfortunately attempt suicide. To say that "it is likely that a lifetime of playing football" is to blame is simply absurd. Also, we don't lock murderers away as punishment, but rather to protect the rest of society from them and with the hope to rehabilitate them. Based on what I have read about the trial, I think it was correct to convict this man.

  19. Dementia pugilistica isn't new, so those who brought this affliction upon themselves shouldn't be able to use it as a defense for premeditated murder. There is no treatment, so a sufferer could only be locked up for life, for the protection of staff and other mental patients. As a female who wasn't eligible for a lucrative sports career, I have no sympathy for those who would excuse anti-social behavior with the inevitable consequences.

  20. It can happen that your actions are no longer your fault due to CTE - just like a severe mental illness. However, CTE cannot be cured. I agree that this should be considered as a defense to murder. And when it is shown to be true, the individuals involved should not be given the death penalty, but then they must be locked up, to protect society until such a time - IF EVER - when their illness can be entirely cured and they are restored to rationality. Today, that isn't possible for CTE, and realistically often isn't possible for mental illnesses severe enough to make you a murderer. But this isn't about some type of "fair" - fair would be that no one ever get such a condition, fair would be that we all are in complete control of ourselves. The world isn't going to be fair, but the situation can be considered enough that you are spared the death penalty.

  21. I'd suggest two areas of research. It seems overwhelming that there is a causative correlation between CTE and football, although the sample of 112 brains was not at all random. Can we look at footballers from the leather helmet days now that we have some knowledge of symptoms when the brain is not available? And can we compare rugby players for whom tackling is just as frequent with zero head protection? And if, as I suspect, rugby players do not exhibit CTE to the same extent, might this be because they are more effectively trained to avoid injury (don't lead with the head) precisely because they have no protection?

  22. To avoid life in prison or death row it might make sense to do a diagnostic brain biopsy on these athletes or even all murderers. This line of defense may bring about the end of capital punishment given that so many of our murderers come from backgrounds of physical violence. Football is but a small subset. In that way Mr. Hernandez may have unwittingly triggered a massive change in our criminal justice system.

  23. And a larger question, are NFL team owners, Universities with profitable football teams, etc. partially responsible for violence that results from the brain injuries created by this excessively dangerous sport? Am I partially responsible as one of millions of adrenaline addicts who tune into football games on television? At what point does it become clear that we are like Romans watching gladiators in a death match every time we watch a football game?

  24. I am not trying to dispute your claim that C.T.E. had something to do with Herna'ndez violent behavior. I want to question whether this man had other reasons as well, like a family live bereft of feelings, of love, of belonging, the lack of self-respect and appreciation at a much earlier age. I suspect that hard core criminals may have been deprived, at a critical moment in their lives, of that feeling of being appreciated, feeling for 'the other', being loved and not abandoned to the wolves, living in poverty and violence. In other words, our understanding of what's going on (or not) in our brains is in its infancy.

  25. Some statistics please. How do CTE rates among football players compare to the population at large and how do rates of violent, illegal acts among football players off the field compare to the population at large? Ditto for ice hockey players ---the other sport with CTE issues---and their rates of commission off ice of violent, illegal acts. And how do CTE rates among football players compare to those for ice hockey players, and how do their rates of the commission of violent illegal acts off field and off ice compare?

  26. Thank you - a voice of reason and numerousy.

  27. Hernandez' case is not that simple. He managed to stay alive through his second trial where he was found not guilty.Then he killed himself while the first conviction was under appeal,and by doing so negated the guilty status thus possibly saving his family from losing all his money in a civil suit to the family of his victim.Then he killed himself knowing he probably had CTE so his family could sue the NFL. It appears to me he was very methodical in his actions to protect his family. He was also able to follow the rules on a football field. He was not insane at all and in his case I do not see any reason to spare him any culpability in his criminal behavior. As to football, I believe in our towns we need to clamor not to support school football teams with our tax dollars. It is incomprehensible to me that any parent lets their son play football. Boys under 18 cannot assess the potential for damage themselves, their parents are failing them.

  28. It is a mistake to think that punishment is a deterrent to this kind of crime. When someone is suffering from a brain injury, talking about moral responsibility is a waste of time. The question is not whether a murderer deserves punishment, it is how do we protect society from a murderer. We should not lock them up as punishment, but simply for reasons of public safety.

  29. Please. Nobody disputes the link between football and CTE. But where is the link between CTE and callous repeated homicides? Retired boxers and offensive tackles don't run around shooting people for sport, at least not in great numbers. There are plenty of macho aggressive people around getting into bar fights, punching their spouses and, occasionally committing murder due to an absence of "impulse control." Even if there were a means to select them out, which apparenlty there isn't short of chopping off their heads, people with CTE should not be entitled to more leeway for such conduct than that provided by the existing insanity-related defenses.

  30. What are the chances that a football star, with his Super Bowl ring and a fair amount of money and fame, would check himself into a therapeutic hospital? Part of the problem is the enormous privilege of living outside of the law that most pro sports stars enjoy until they take it too far. Hernandez crossed that line, but so many sports stars rely on a double standard of justice where the victims can't compete in relevance to a sports star's fame. Mike Tyson, OJ Simpson, Jerry Sandusky & Paterno, etc. These are the ones we hear about. Who have we not heard from? We have not heard from most of the victims of many of our sports heroes. Brain damage or not this is another factor in Odin Lloyd's tragedy. Odin Lloyd-remember him?

  31. OJ Simpson...finally. I was wondering when someone else would make the logical connection. CTE is the only rational explanation for the mans actions.

  32. While it's plausible that CTE might diminish a football player's responsibility for a violent crime if he committed one, the current lack of a test to identify the presence of the brain makes this a moot point. Football could be made significantly safer. For instance, you could impose weight limitations on players, make tackling with the arms an absolute requirement, throw players out of a game for launching themselves to take an opponent down, eliminate the crouching set on the offensive line, etc, etc. I'm sure that if there was a possibility that the game was facing an existential crisis, the NCAA and the NFL could get really creative. But they don't see a financial incentive to do so.

  33. Band aids.

  34. I’d be curious to see a deeper study of former pro football players that goes back as far as the records can take us, and by position played. After they retired, how many had legal issues related to violence, suicidal issues, bouts of mental health decline, etc? If we assume based on today’s CTE findings that most of these historical players also suffered from CTE, then we could evaluate the percent whise symptoms manifested in violence and the number who did not. I’d hate to consider any football player a potential threat in waiting. If that’s the case, then we must out of good conscious and public safety put an end to the sport in its current form. But we need really deep statistical and historical research before we make that call.

  35. A thought-provoking article. My understanding is that professional boxers are considered to be the possessors of deadly weapons in the form of their fists and are held legally responsible should they use their fists outside the ring. I wonder if similar laws should not be formulated for professional football players. Of course, this liability would do nothing to prevent the excessive use of force due to CTE. Perhaps some civil liability for the NFL based on the actions of present and former players could steer things in the right direction.

  36. So deliberately engaging in an activity known to promote violent behavior can be used as an excuse for violent behavior ? That does not seem very fair to the general public.

  37. Ray Rice knocked Janae Palmer unconscious in an elevator for all the world to see. Who is responsible?

  38. The evidence of the causes effects of CTE are mounting. As a neuropsych doc who has seen the results in soldiers, boxers and other athletes, there has to be a prohibition on contact for players under 12, pre & post season neuropsych testing before and after each season from school sports through professional leagues to give parents and players insight into their status, not just diagnose their impairments after they are disabled or die. We know too much to let this keep happening. It's not just from big concussions, but the daily small hits of the game. Where are the school systems, universities, coaches, players unions and professional leagues? In a few years, this will all look inexcusable. And for what, some Friday night or Sunday afternoon glory and entertainment? (and money?) Really???

  39. Right now the point is mute because it can only be diagnosed post mortem. I served on a jury for a murder trial - somewhat different in that the accused claimed self-defense in the victims home - part of the case presented by the defense for our (the jury) consideration was PTSD from growing up in a bad neighborhood. Novel but not really germane. It was an extremely violent murder of a woman and the accused claimed he was an invited guest. His downfall (at least for the last guilty vote) was his lawyers claim that he had left the apartment by a window on the second floor after defending himself - but the screen was pushed in and not out. The accused did not testify and I believe he was medicated. We followed the judges instructions and came back with the guilty verdict based on objective evidence. As for Aaron Hernandez - some people seem to think that by bringing up the objective fact that he had severe CTE means that people are trying to justify his behavior. So far from the few articles I have read - that does not seem to be the case - just the statement of a fact.

  40. so, until the time CTE shows up on some medical recording device, it may be a good thing to track retired players and look to various therapies for any developing behavioral disorders or medical conditions...not only with extant methods and meds, but those that may be developed as a result of research based on the tracking experience. a taxing effort to be sure but now that we know about CTE anything less is deliberate neglect.

  41. The author blames the C.T.E. not Aaron Hernandez. But the C.T.E. IS Aaron Hernandez. Organic damage to executive function will be a hard mitigating or exculpating factor for juries because of how we see the idea of the self: that it is an objective mind standing in opposition to the body. The mind-body duality is so ingrained in our culture, especially in the idea of a soul with free will placed into a body, that juries will be loathe to take physical evidence of brain damage as an "excuse" for sin.

  42. The C.T.E. problem could be reduced by eliminating barbaric sports such as football and boxing. Of course, that will never happen because the masses love lots of blood and insanity.

  43. Hernandez is responsible for murdering Odin Lloyd, full stop. We shouldn't treat this as a defense but rather as a public health issue. When the effects of CTE were limited to the players and their families we could easily brush it off with "they did it for the money." Now, there is a real possibility that the effects of CTE extend to anyone caught in the sights of strong, fast, already aggressive men with limited self control brought on by a degenerative brain disease that is entirely preventable. The question isn't whether CTE is a defense but whether it puts society at risk.

  44. Since finding out about CTE, I have wondered about O.J. Simpson. Was he a violent and out of control person, or did he become one taking too many hard hits? Is CTE a defense? Yes, of course it is. It may not be effective, always, but it is a possibility. For Aaron Hernandez, who had extensive damage very young, a good lawyer should be able to argue that he has not had the opportunity to complete the growth of the cells that manage executive functions - decision making about our actions - before he started to show signs of brain injury. A good prosecutor can argue that he is simply violent. But the defense can be raised, and asserted. And the question we have to ask is, what are we going to do about a sport that can so desperately injure young men, and allow them in turn to kill themselves or injure others?

  45. We need to do a comprehensive base-line study on every player and record their behaviors before death, then follow up with post mortems to establish what markers could be used to reveal CTE before death

  46. No, C.T.E. can't be used as an excuse for murder, but apparently it's the root for murder. Better try to avoid these horrible brain damages at American Football. It isn't considered a sport, remember this.

  47. Was Hernandez also lacking the ability to reason when he destroyed his home surveillance system and cell phone after he murdered Mr. Lloyd? Was he lacking the ability to reason when he killed himself, because he (accurately) heard that when you die prior to having exhausted all appeals, you're considered innocent in the state of Massachusetts, which helps in civil cases? Football is obviously incredibly dangerous to the people who play it. However obtuse the NFL and universities have been in cases of CTE does not entitle lawyers to make up their own facts in order to excuse the act of murder and completely ignore signs that Hernandez knew exactly what he was doing. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is similar to CTE as it also causes impulsive behavior, substance abuse, depression, mood swings, and sometimes aggression. Try using ADHD as a defense of murder in court. I dare you.

  48. 110 of 111 brains examined had CTE. Suicide is a way out for retired football players suffering with CTE. CTE can be eliminated and reduced by 99%. A simple answer, Mothers do not allow you children to play football that engages in the above results. Let them play flag football. Oh, I did not consider the Billions of $$$ that are in the coffers of Colleges and Universities and the NFL. If the NCAA & NFL condones the results from concussions and constant hits to the head, it must be OK to continue. There is enough "extra" money to "payoff" families for early death after a terrible early and sad end of life. No worry, there will be new recruits for the glamor and signing bonuses as well as the big dollar contracts and endorsements. What's a murder or two here and there? Nicotine drug suppliers finally were forced to reveal their destruction. Opiates too. The list continues: From the "Twinkie" defense to not having control over murder. What's next? Tweeting causing mental breakdowns?

  49. I do not condone Mr. Hernandez's behavior. The problem really is accountability. On the one hand we have an individual who committed acts of violence against others, and then himself and society seeks to hold him accountable for his actions, no matter what the ultimate location of his incarceration happened to be. On the other hand you have a sport that has denied, ignored, and ultimately not taken responsibility for the violence that causes CTE because of the massive amount of profit. And the fans bear some responsibility. Sit in the stands at a football game or hockey game. The greatest amount of cheering you will hear is after the biggest violent hit or during a hockey fight. They love violence. Not much will change until the fans turn away and the liability starts to eat up the profit. Neither appears to be on the horizon.

  50. From previous reports regarding Hernandez, his life was out of control long before he entered college football. Perhaps a more stable home life would have prevented his unwinding. As for CTE, Im not doubting it or the damage it causes to the lives of the men that acquired this brain injury. It just seems to me that this is an attempt to forgive and forget that Hernandez was a thug for most of his life.

  51. If a person with CTE commits a murder and because of CTE is not convicted, what do you do with that person? Remorse is meaningless. Therapy is useless. Future violence is likely. Do you chain him to a hospital bed? Do you sedate him? Do you release him and hope for the best? There is no good answer.

  52. Great, but by that analysis maybe football players are too dangerous to walk the streets. Certainly it is too dangerous for them to own guns or drive cars. Why should they be trusted to manage their financial affairs, make decisions for their children. I'm not sure they should be allowed to spend unmonitored time with intimate partners who are unable to defend themselves. Clearly the solution is to put them in cages. /s

  53. "Given the conclusive diagnosis of Stage 3 C.T.E., it is likely that a lifetime of playing football — not Mr. Hernandez’s will — was to blame." Hernandez hit someone at the age of 17 and the case was settled out of court. Was he suffering from CTE back then, too? Perhaps it is likely that Hernandez's tendency to inflict harm on others--exhibited an early age-- and not CTE was to blame for his actions. CTE is a serious medical issue, but using it to excuse violent behavior which may not have been caused by CTE is ridiculous. As it is, athletes get away with rape, aggressive behavior and so on. Providing a medical reason for their violent behavior does not serve the society well.

  54. It is quite unfair to compare the impulsive actions of a 17-year-old with those of an adult. A great deal of research has shown how the adolescent brain is not yet fully formed, and why children should not be held to the same standards as adults. Your assertion is flawed.

  55. So, what is society supposed to do? Should we all be victims of these people? Since there is no cure, their only option is to spend the rest of their life in a mental hospital. Frankly, he chose the more desirable route.

  56. That repeated brain injuries can suppress one's ability to control impulses may lead to uncontrollable and often violent acts against others and self. Is this a defense for the criminal behavior of some football players? Perhaps. Which would widen the field of culpability to include the NFL. Let's not kid ourselves. The corporate franchise, by the nature of its product, is churning out dozens of potential ticking time bombs. I feel for the Hernandez family as much as I do the Lloyd family, as both were victims.

  57. If virtually all N.F.L. players have C.T.E., and C.T.E. becomes a recognized defense for a murder charge, maybe it's time to rethink how the game of football is played. I mean starting this fall, tomorrow, now. A new season of brain-destroying injury is just getting started. Mothers, don't let your babies grow up to be football players.

  58. There are tens of thousands of football players. 111 are known to have had CTE.

  59. Out of 111 brains of former football players studied by Boston University, 110 had C.T.E. That's an overwhelmingly proportion, leading one to believe that most, if not all, former players have C.T.E. A far cry from "111 out of tens of thousands".

  60. Ray -- a bunch of players offered to donate their brains. BU required that they fill out an extensive questionnaire and undergo examination. Of those applicants, based on the information they collected, they decided that 111 had CTE. Basically, they were right. All that means is that their questionnaire and examination were effective. You could do that with almost any disease -- cancer or heart disease, for example . If you have the tell- tale symptoms, you have the disease. That's all they proved.

  61. Mental illness, trauma induced or otherwise, would be the underlying cause of all homicides. We have become a society of endless debates and legal loopholes, perhaps to protect our sensibilities rather than deal with reality. Our life span is too short, move on !

  62. If ever there is a simple test, perhaps an MRI, that can reveal CTE in a living human, that will be the end of football and other gladiator sports. I cannot wait. There is significant damage done to America when we allow fellow humans to destroy each other so that those in the stands can drunkenly cheer and bet. It is the same with those cage fights, but at least there high school students aren't allowed to batter each other. Football is a test, and we are failing it. Hugh Massengill, Eugene Oregon

  63. Good question. It's exactly what I now ask of American colleges and universities and the entire NCAA that profits off of football while murdering the student-athletes like Aaron Hernandez. That to me, is now indefensible.

  64. Is being high on alcohol or drugs or some other self-inflicted impairment a defense for murder?

  65. 1.) Steroids also cause uncontrollable rage and before you carve up a football player's brain to see if they have CTE it's just as likely they have steroid induced rage as CTE induced rage. Steroid induced rage isn't a defense so I'm not sure CTE would be either. Criminal culpability doesn't get eliminated because you got mad. It gets eliminated because you don't have the capacity to distinguish right from wrong. Hernandez certainly was able to distinguish right from wrong, as evidenced by his activities to cover up the crime afterward. 2.) If CTE is as prevalent as people claim there are lots of people out there who have it who aren't killing people. 3.) If he were acquitted because of CTE the court's response should be to confine him for life. CTE isn't curable so while he might have gotten relieved of criminal responsibility he's still a danger to society and would need to be confined. Unlike an insanity defense where eventually you can claim your insanity is "cured" he would never be able to maintain it was safe for him to be in society. The net result is the same - life in prison. 4.) People should be careful of that defense. If CTE is a successful defense against criminal behavior then the appropriate societal response is to institutionalize people who show signs of CTE to protect society against them.

  66. So, since likely the vast majority of football players likely have some degree of CTE, and CTE is a legit defense for murder, syllogism says that football players get a free pass, no pun intended, on killing people. How about instead holding them responsible for putting themselves in harm's way knowing they could become uncontrollably violent? What's next, using alcoholism or drug use as an excuse for murder?

  67. How soon will allowing those under 18 to play tackle football be considered child abuse? Not soon enough.

  68. Hernandez aside, what's the legal responsibility of the NFL and The Patriots who had a financial interest in concealing what they knew about Hernandez's violent and impulsive nature, and his life outside the game? What we'll get from them in defense of their moral and ethical violation is a story about a rescue fantasy of this hoodlum from CT. Whole thing stinks and makes me want to take a shower.

  69. Hernandez grew up in a house where his mother was federally convicted and incarcerated for selling drugs; his step-father was a violent ex-con and he was photographed already wearing gang colors in junior high. There may have been mitigating circumstances on top of the CTE which was unlikely to have appeared by grade 8.

  70. There is nothing that we could have done for him. There are always going to be people, who, for whatever reason, will be "challenges" for our society, and, because of the size and complexity of this society, the best that we may be able to do is limit the damage they do.

  71. all through my life malfeasance committed by football players is swept under the rug. starting in elementary school and continuing now though the EX PLAYERS life. come on people football players have been getting a pass for far too long. this is madness. outlaw the sport or get rid of logic with accountability. this is constant madness.

  72. CTE is a cause of murder. When a non-invasive and reliable test for CTE is discovered, every athlete at every level, including pee-wee football, should be tested yearly for CTE and if the test is positive, banned from all sports that involve decelerations to the head. For sure, they will be uninsurable. Until such a test is available, it would be advisable that all players retire from football, for instance, at age 26 with the exception of quarterbacks who should retire by age 30 and kickers by age 35. Trump keeps on claiming that football has gone soft and that hits are not as hard as they were. He should be sanctioned for encouraging dangerous activity which leads to murder and suicide.

  73. Most decent people are presently worried about the debilitating effects of playing football, its potential for damaging players' physical well-being and permanently injuring their brains. These preoccupations and whether the "game's" dangers can be employed as a defense for murder seem of no concern to our current angry Cheeto, Trumpty Dumpty "president". Instead, in his Alabama rally yesterday, he bemoaned the effect such considerations are having on the "sport's" ratings--forget about the welfare of the athletes--and maintained that such safety, health and justice issues are "hurting the game," saying that players "want to hit". He simultaneously argued that any player exercising his first amendment rights should be fired, a clear federal ethics violation. Rather than debate whether CTE can be employed as a defense for murder, what is the defense for this so-called president running roughshod over any last vestige of common sense, morality, legality and decency?

  74. Are you kidding?? Aaron Hernandez was a convicted Murderer. His violent tendencies attracted him to the violent game of football at which he excelled , reaching the highest level of the sport. I don't question the pathologically proven finding of CTE, but this chronic condition did not cause an underlying sociopathy. Chances are Mr. Hernandez would have ended up murdering another person . Aaron just happened to be a famous athlete. Otherwise the case would never had garnered this much attention.

  75. Why not hold Aaron Hernandez responsible for his actions whether he was ill or not? We routinely hold addicts and the mentally ill responsible for their actions in spite of their diminished capacity. We routinely hold teenagers responsible for their behavior. when we know their brains aren't mature, trying them as adults and sentencing some as young as 14 year old to life. The fact is our courts are seriously out of sync with science. Until we adopt an attitude of rehabilitation instead of retribution these injustices will continue.

  76. It could be considered a defense for punishment. Though someone committing a crime of passion, 2nd or 3rd degree, manslaughter, even self defense, would receive a 'life' sentence with pleading CTE. When a confessed -- even tried, convicted murderer has served sentence, they can be released. Whereas a CTE should not be released into the general population, if there is ever a chance the damage could be causation. So it might be a plea, but it sentences the guilty to a life of containment; worse than a 2nd, 3rd, or manslaughter sentence, served.

  77. As a criminal trial attorney I disagree with the view that Mr. Hernandez was surely not guilty by reason of insanity. That may be true and it may not be. That is the decision of the judge and jury. People with mental defects may be found guilty or not. The issue is whether the defect excuses the crime. Psychiatric experts testify, but they don't make the final decision. Hernandez may or may not have been thinking straight when he committed murder. The experts give their opinions but the bottom line decision always belongs to judge and jury. And that's a good thing. Some psychiatrists are as crazy as their patients.

  78. Universities must stop their football programs. Full stop.

  79. He has a familial history of violence. He has a life long personal history of violence He may have been unable to control his violent rages. That does make him perhaps in a legal sense not criminally responsible but then it would mean a verdict of guilty but insane and still require confinement in a secure facility for the criminally insane. I have no problem with that. If he's off the streets and under confinement that's fine...he can't get guns and shoot someone again. Since CTE is not treatable, the only cure would be death and he'd never get out again. CTE is not a get out of jail free card. Why anyone allows their children today to play football is the question. Why do we allow public schools paid for with taxpayer money to sponsor football with the guarantee of head injury is a bigger question.

  80. Its not a defense its a reason. It doesn't mean you get to go free if you commit a murder with CTE.

  81. C.T.E. and the NFL have now been made accessories to Hernandez's crimes. Let's not allow ourselves to lose sight of the fact that is was Hernandez who committed the savage acts. He is not to be posthumously absolved of his crimes since many football players have suffered from C.T.E. and not turned into murders. The sympathy needs to go to the victims and their families not to Hernandez.

  82. I can't imagine what it must be like to be the average NFL prospect: disadvantaged background, not rigorously educated, and no real future other than a shot at getting rich while most likely destroying himself body and mind...

  83. It is impossible to rigorously educate a person whose IQ limits his ability to learn. How does a "disadvantaged background" ensure that someone will not be able to advance? What is a "real future?"

  84. Rich in a relative sense. Very few of the players, in any sport, become stinking-rich. Only the marketable stars get there. What usually happens to the non-stars is they end up living beyond their means, and retire-out or cut-out, broke, or if they had the right financial guidance (again a small number) living a comfortable middle/upper-mid life style. But then have to find a civilian means to supplement their income. Hence the ones doing local car-dealership promos, shilling for QVC-like products, etc... But you're right...what do you do when you're that young, broke and in many cases sorely under-educated prospect...? Especially the ones who cant rely on the draft system to get into the Pros. The ones who have to attend all the open try-outs in the thin hopes of catching a coaches or a scouts eye. Those guys are the ones who will take risks that threaten their well-being. Very often with no positive results.

  85. If the structure of a person's brain is sufficient to absolve them of responsibility then why hold anyone responsible for anything? We are the sum of our uncontrollable genetics raised in an unchosen environment. Nobody is responsible for their behavior under this model. What is the difference between CTE, genetic inheritance, rough childhood? Ultimately, you go to prison not as punishment for being responsible, but to remove you from interfering with other people's freedoms and enjoyment of life. The fact rather than the reason for the infringement is why you go away. It's for the rest of us. And if prison is too terrible for someone who is "not responsible" for the young man he murdered then why make the distinction at all? Just say Crime is proof of mental defect, everyone goes to mental health clinic until a Doctor can assure the public that the convicted no longer poses a threat to the rest of us. In Mr. Hernandez's case, this would amount to the same thing.

  86. Luke, you basically outlined why the "free-will" model of behavior, or in your case the American POV towards it, is so defective. It lacks the ability to adapt to realities about human behaviors that dont fit all snug into the too old paradigm. Which is mostly derived from Christian doctrines. The belief that all people make free and conscious decisions about, well basically everything in their lives is just that, a belief, that is solely based on faith. Contrary to your/others POV, science is determining that we are mostly driven by biology. By hormones, and yes, genetics. All of which is in a state of change - depending on many factors. Environment, excess stress, exposure to toxins, good nutrition for example - all have impacts on the person, that in some cases can be passed down. Even more subtle things, like education, exposure to variety - all can have some steering effects on a person. And no two people, even with the same genetic backgrounds, will react the same. I don't think anyone is saying to end incarcerating criminals. You jump to a silly conclusion. Rather what people who are willing to listen to the scientific realities are saying/offering, is that as an alleged civilized and modern society we have to adjust our modes of thinking and acting towards those which are presently simply dismissed as "bad" people. Trash to be thrown out. Rehab was always the alleged goal of the prison system. Its high time we follow thru on that and stop throwing people out.

  87. CTE wasn't the only factor in his background which may have predisposed him towards aggression as the first and perhaps only way to handle strong emotions. And many people who are incarcerated - and not just the ones who are formally mentally ill - have anything but nurturing backgrounds which have shaped their brains from their infancy. There is also increasing evidence in neurology that none of us has as much "control" over our thoughts and actions as we like to believe. Testosterone fueled aggression is considered a desirable trait on the field; unfortunate only if it gets the team and NFL in to trouble--- this is also a matter of possible drug use, and a stinking value system, which celebrates inflicting harm to opponents on game days, and winks at domestic abuse and other behavior which mirrors on the field acts. Those like Mr Hernandez need treatment BUT may ALSO need to be incarcerated, or locked up in some way, or closely monitored, if they are unable to control their behaviors, even with -mandated - treatment. If one does not have the potential in your brain to exercise control over strong emotions, and has exhibited violent behaviors, medications cannot replace the missing neurons and connections. SO someone can be not fully responsible for his acts -- but so likely to repeat the violence that the community cannot risk having them harm someone else. It isn;'t only CTE - or dementia, but that combined with a history of violence that has to be considered.

  88. if someone has too much to drink, we consider that person to have "diminished capacity" to understand or refrain from commiting a crime. The only reason someone could have for excluding CTE from "diminished capacity" would be defense of football as a sport and the NFL as a viable entertainment for reasonable adults. The show must go on.

  89. As others have noted in their comments, professional football (and its Division 1 university feeder system) is not only injuring its players but also placing at risk society at large. The NFL has already settled with some of its former players, who had the standing to sue, but prior to now it was unclear how the general public was going to get its day in court. Now we know. The Lloyd family certainly has the standing to sue the NFL and they should. Moreover, the possibility of their suit being assigned class action status should be vigorously pursued. This might be the mechanism for finally bringing to an end this latest incarnation of gladiator entertainment.

  90. Of course CTE is not a defense of murder. But it mitigates the crime of murder and needs to be worked into the sentencing matrix. If the defendant can show a reasonable probability of having acted under the influence of his or her brain disease, resulting from repetitive head trauma, then it is a factor. It might mean a reduced sentence and housing in a mental institution or, as the disease progresses, movement to a secure psych unit, long term care facility or skilled nursing depending upon risk of future violent or aggressive behavior.

  91. Or, CTE may have nothing to do with making right or wrong decisions.

  92. In some cases, a person predisposed to commit crimes may be more inclined to do so when certain environmental or genetic conditions intervene to support the erratic behavior. It's possible that CTE wasn't the main impulse or factor, but just one more contributing consequence of something sick already lurking in the mind of the young man. We've been able to isolate the impulse du jour, but the others lie with his ashes and we'll never know. It'll take time and patience to reach the end zone of this controversy.

  93. This seems like a failure in oversight and regulation that resulted in a preventable and tragic outcome. The "blame game" here is a red herring - the NFL is at fault for C.T.E. Murder has nothing to do with this fact, it is indisputable. Is it a defense for murder? I suppose that one is for the judge. But I think we're asking the wrong questions, and the real criminals are getting away again.

  94. Whoa Dunning. Hernandez played football long before he got to the NFL. can you prove it wasn't college football or HS football, or middle school football or or peewee football that caused his CTE? And since he was a violent guy anyway, maybe it was caused by getting into fights. Can you prove that?

  95. "Aaron Hernandez should be sitting in a therapeutic hospital receiving care for a profound brain injury." So far, I haven't read anything about what therapy could be used to help someone with CTE. If the injury cannot be diagnosed until after the person is dead and the brain is examined, there may be no way to decide who should be in a "therapeutic hospital" or if there is anything that should/could be done. Perhaps all long-time professional football players should graduate directly to a secure facility until they are too old to do much more damage.

  96. I do not understand the good professors Dillard and Tucker reasoning. As of now one cannot determine CTE until postmortem. How can that be used to put one in mental health treatment? The murderer is already dead. Also, if the day comes and CTE can be determined while one is still alive, and a football player, and they commit murder, they should not be absolved. They knew playing football is a determining cause of CTE going in.

  97. How many children playing in so called Peewee Leagues know about CTE?

  98. It appears that no one at time of arrest or during incarceration ever considered Hernandez mentally impaired or incompetent. It's not clear whether he was ever seen by a forensic psychiatrist but it's unlikely. And also highly unlikely that a NGRI plea would come out of such al evaluation. Prisons are full of angry young men who cannot or will not control their behavior. AH was where he belonged.

  99. I was taught from babyhood that hitting someone -- or willfully injuring a living being -- was wrong. It was something that ignorant, evil, insane people did. Then is saw that most of the world celebrate brutality with what they called "sports." Boxing, football, hockey, fencing and so on were based ong damage to one's opponent. I've hated those sports all my life. Have never watched any of the brutish "games" that are meant to tear flesh, break bones and shame the enemy. Sports such as these exist to destroy the idea of peaceful co-existence in our small world.

  100. No, seriously . . .

  101. No. There is no defense for murder. Accordingly, there is no defense for the death penalty.

  102. This guy was able to run difficult play patterns--going left to right--and he knew right from wrong. CTE defense sounds like a new tool in a lawyer's playbook.

  103. Do not blame CTE for Aaron Hernandez's poor choices & for him murdering Odin Lloyd. You should be ashamed of yourselves. The BU CTE study was done on the brains of players who exhibited symptoms, as you state "study sample is small and nonrandom". This matters in drawing any conclusions on CTE & violence, though clearly these poor players had brain damage & suffered towards the ends of their lives. Aaron Hernandez was a problem long before he got to the NFL: From the Orlando Sentinel (David Whitley) "The Boston Globe reported Hernandez failed as many as six drug tests at Florida. He left after three seasons, but NFL teams were so leery that a first-round talent wasn’t picked until the fourth round. “We stayed away,” one scout told, “because we hated the people he hung out with & how trouble always seemed to find this guy.” Don’t be surprised if Baez (the attorney who is now suing the NFL, etc.) adds Florida & the NCAA to the complaint. Heck, why not throw in Bristol Central High? The cynical answer is because there’s no money to make suing a high school. If CTE turned Hernandez into a murderer, however, who’s to say which blow to the head started the spiral?" Hernandez clearly had CTE but cause & effect, folks. He had impulse control issues, violent behavior & was taking drugs early on. The loss of his father, while he was in high school, may or may not have precipitated & crystalized his anger into bad actions. But he made choices, bad choices

  104. And who knows at what age his brain damage started? Was he beaten as a child? born damaged? We don't know. It would also be interesting to know if he was an XYY male as studies have shown that men with an extra Y chromosome are often very violent.

  105. Plenty of football players have been found, upon autopsy, to have CTE, but most of them never committed murder. The legal definition of diminished capacity doesn't apply to those with psychiatric pathology, like Ted Bundy, not would it seem to absolve someone whose putative brain damage didn't prevent him from leading a normal life in other regards. FAIL

  106. But many of them were violent. And many people with plain old old age dementia get violent. If he were found innocent based on brain damage, he probably would still have been locked away. Not much difference outcome.

  107. Ted Bundy was not a man subject to fits of rage who led an otherwise normal life. Ted Bundy was a cold and premeditated predator of women. When he appeared to be leading a normal life, he was building a cover for his last premeditated murder and planning his next one. That is not a pattern of alternating rage and remorse that would fit with a diagnosis of TBI and CTE. Ted Bundy's example does not apply here at all.

  108. Once upon a time the legal definition of a witch was the one who drowned upon trial by ordeal. Times change. Brain damage, psychiatric pathology, whatever you call it, should, according to what we are learning about CTE and decision making be a mitigating factor. btw, have you read about Aaron Hernandez? What part of his "other" pursuits was "normal"? He was out of control, all the time.

  109. The book 'Incognito', by the Neuroscientist, David Eagleman, does a very good job of covering this issue of diminished capacity/altered capacity outside of ones' individual control. The lawyers writing this op-ed are doing what lawyers do and that is taking an idea to an ultimate conclusion, though not fully and clearly supported by facts. To say that the behavior of Aaron Hernandez is likely due to a lifetime of football is a gigantic leap that no competent scientist or clinician would make –they would instead say possible and look at the percentage numbers as well as other facts. It is fair to say that his CTE contributed to his behaviors and decision making process, or lack thereof, however, there are many who have been diagnosed post mortem who did not commit violent crime such as murder. How much did it contribute? Truth is no one knows, as our understanding of this disease is in the very early stages. Hernandez may have suffered other neurological, neurophysiological, genetic, or psychological disorders which played an equally great or greater role. It is a complex picture and puzzle, and not one easily distilled to black and white labeling. There are likely other contributing factors to Hernandez behavior and ultimate choices, and it is not clear that CTE is the lone culprit. What is clear is that it is a mitigating factor, and perhaps the most important factor.

  110. The question is whether CTE is insanity or to simplify it can a person with a brain tumor which interferers or alters higher thought processes such as reasoning. Even if its manifests itself at unexpected intervals, such a person should be considered insane and a danger to themselves and others. CTE cannot be 100% diagnosed until after death but medical experts can testify from a criminal defendant’s sports history and recent health compaints that he almost certainly is suffering from CTE, which should be considered to be a form of temporary insanity which without notice to the criminal defendant allows him to check and control violent urges and know right from wrong and know what he was doing, when he did it, was wrong. The down side is that the verdict should be not guilty by reason of insanity and because the defendant if a danger to himself and others requires hospitalization until medical science can find a cure.

  111. Apparently damaged athletes puts the public in danger from diminished capacity. Time for Congress to act to ban violent contact sports like football, boxing and hockey, etc, but probably won't happen as long as wealthy sports club owners help fund Congressional campaigns.

  112. Why shouldn't athletes now get away with murder? They already earn astronomical incomes, have fame and celebrity, and are afforded more privilege than any common person. Seems only natural that we should now encourage further excuses for their actions. Why should they be expected to follow the law when they're earning millions of dollars chasing a ball?

  113. No one forces men to play professional football. Free will comes with consequences.

  114. Let us be clear about what laws are to accomplish: Not just to punish offenders, but to protect the public. CTE is not curable. CTE increases the risk of violent crime by those so afflicted. The only logical -- and sane -- course to follow is that one who commits a serious crime claiming, in defense at trial, it to be the result of some form of incurable brain malfunction -- "insanity"-- supposedly diagnosed by measures of behavior and responses to appropriate psychological tests, must be confined for life. The drunk who commits illegal acts while under the influence is curable. The perpetrator with irreversible brain damage who claims that condition as a defense is not. How the condition came about is important only in preventing, where possible, activities that are likely to cause it. And there's the rub: How to accomplish that without depriving those whose lives would be thus affected without infringing their statutory rights. If individuals insist upon taking part in such activities, they must accept that potentially sacrificing their rights is part of the price they will pay by voluntarily doing so.

  115. "But C.T.E. deprives such players of the ability to handle disputes rationally." Yes, but so does celebrity. Sorry, but I'm not ready to see famous domestic abusers waiving brain scans in courtrooms.

  116. Should he be punished due to the damage caused by him punishing his own brain? Perhaps that would be justice in itself so long as it wasn't acted out on someone else. Why should the innocent victim take the hit for Hernandez that he seems so willing to take for himself so long as he gets paid a ton of money for doing so?

  117. No, it's not a defense. And given Hernandez' poor behavior at U of Florida his family's lawsuit against the NFL is a waste of time and money.

  118. Just because Hernandez was found guilty of premeditated murder, doesn't mean he wasn't insane. CTE breaks down the brains ability to problem solve. It attacks every corner of the brain. Now that we know that CTE can be found in children who play contact sports, is it any surprise he cracked? His brain shows severe CTE and he was only 27.

  119. This case is highly analogous to that of Charles Whitman, AKA the Texas Tower Sniper. Whitman murdered 16 people, including his own wife and mother. He left a note prior to the event in which he described his own actions as completely mysterious, even to himself. He requested, in this note, that an autopsy be performed on his body after his death, which discovered a stage 4 glioblastoma - a type of brain tumor - pressing against his amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for emotions, survival instincts, and memory. Until the discovery of the tumor, Whitman's actions seem to be those of a standard murderous psychopath. But when you see that his behavior was almost certainly influenced - if not caused - by the tumor, he becomes a victim of his own biology. He didn't "cause" the tumor, he didn't want it, he wasn't even aware of its existence. And yet the presence of that tumor largely explains his actions. While not everyone with a brain tumor goes on a killing spree, it seems pretty clear that having one is a sufficient, if not necessary, condition for going on one. If CTE is a condition which alters a person's ability to control their own actions, where do we draw the line between actions caused by biology over which the perpetrator has no control and choices truly made of free will? Does this line even exist?

  120. When I was playing high school water polo fifty years ago I can remember walking through the locker room and hearing the football coach chant (every day of the season) at the top of his voice: kill!, kill!, kill! I thought tackle football was sadistic and demeaning then and the passage of time, combined with the findings of medical science, has only deepened that belief. Fun fact: more Navy SEALs have played water polo than any other competitive team sport. You don't have to damage young people's most important physical asset - their brains - to engage in highly competitive sports. Also - water polo is available to girls and women as well as boys and men.

  121. Ditto for Ultimate frisbee.

  122. On NPR yesterday afternoon, the possibility of CTE causing Aaron Hernandez to act violently was discussed. On “All Things Considered,” Kelly McEvers asked science correspondent Jon Hamilton, “I think people have the question that could CTE have caused him to behave violently? To which he responded; “You know, what they have observed is that people with CTE seem prone to being aggressive or explosive or impulsive. And they also know that a number of athletes with CTE have committed suicide. But you know, CTE doesn't necessarily cause those behaviors. And of course Aaron Hernandez had a history of violence that went back many years before his death, presumably before he had severe damage to his brain. There's also one other thing that's just a little bit odd. A jury found that Hernandez was guilty of a premeditated, execution-style killing. And that's kind of the opposite of an impulsive act.” So, no, CTE did not cause Mr. Hernandez to act as he did. Read about his life. He was gang thug from the beginning. Instead of using football improve himself, he continued bad ways. CTE should not be used as a defense for murder. For me the take away from this exchange is that liberals are always looking for ways to explain bad behavior that absolves the perpetrator of any personal responsibility for their actions.

  123. I followed you, nodding my head yes, until you said : "liberals are always looking for ways to explain bad behavior ...." Do yourself a favor (and be taken more seriously) - resist the urge to throw everything under a blanket label that is so overused it has been rendered meaningless. Issues are complex. Life events don't fall neatly into a big labeled box. Don't cheapen your otherwise compelling arguments by forcing them into a stupid, partisan box. It's too easy. You can do better. (BTW - that jury that convicted Hernandez of first degree murder was drawn from a blue county in bluest of blue states. They obviously applied the facts to the law and didn't "absolve the perpetrator" as you claim liberals somehow "always" do.)

  124. Curious statement from the authors: "There are many avenues for intervention on behalf of the men who have spent years treating their heads like battering rams for high salaries. For those men who commit violent crimes, the legal community might start by seeing them as mentally incapacitated individuals with significantly impaired impulse control." Among the "many avenues for intervention" we might include getting rid of a sport in which "young men ... spen[d] years treating their head like battering rams." That intervention might be made on behalf of those young men, of course. But it might also be made on behalf of society and on behalf on the future victims of "incapacitated individuals with significantly impaired impulse control." Surely AH's lethal actions were a predictable result of what the game of football needed him to do and for which the NFL paid him a high salary. We need a new version of "Mothers Against Driving Drunk": "Mothers Against Playing Football." Or maybe we could just promote flag football, a fun game I played in middle school.

  125. Sorry. CTE may have made it more difficult to read, comprehend complex matters, or perform certain tasks, but it didn't cause him to, or excuse him, committing murder. Hernandez was always a thug, for whom no rules ever applied. The CTE just made him a thug with CTE.

  126. I'm sorry too. Unless you have lived with someone with CTE through all stages to the end, you have no idea what this disease is capable of. Similar to Alzheimers, CTE essentially blocks the filters in the brain which control personality and behavior. I watched Alzheimers change my calm, polite mother into a vicious, mean-tempered harridan before her death. I watched CTE change my caring, loving husband into a hateful, delusional, vindictive beast. In both cases there were flashes of the people they used to be, but in the end, the diseases won out. Perhaps Hernandez was a thug, but I'm sure there were times in his youth when he was a "good kid". The CTE took all that away, and since the disease manifests differently in different people, it's hard to say when the change occurred. Hernandez was only 27; my husband was 71 (late onset even though he played football in middle school through college).

  127. As we find out more about the brain and the development of personality, more and more crimes will be seen in the light of the failures of society and genetics, and simple bad luck. This does not mean we should empty our jails. However, it does mean that thoughtful people should consider whether we want a justice system based on vengeance, like we have now, or one based on treatment, like they do in the more advanced countries around the world. My father was an alcoholic. The 'reasons' for his alcoholism were numerous, depression, poor social adjustment due to his own upbringing, and, finally, being in a work environment surrounded by other heavy drinkers. He was not sent to jail, he received treatment for his disorder. The desire for vengeance is the only thing preventing us from doing the same with all those guilty of failing to live in a socially permissible manner. We need to rethink crime and punishment. There are very few people that are born evil. There are some, surely, but not many.

  128. Fascinating to see how CTE is entering into the realms of medicine, law, employment, disability, sports etc.. I'm not a lawyer but the legal system can no more ignore CTE than the NFL. I am a physician and no doubt monitoring for CTE will become a part of sports. Professional sports will surely screen for it before signing or resigning players to contracts. Youth and college sports will be much more challenging because of the cost of current screening. Trust me the money is not there for serial screening brain MRIs in non-professional athletes. A cheaper screening test for CTE would be of great benefit. All we have now are concussion protocols and metrics and those don't detect CTE. Of course we could eliminate contact sports but that's not likely to happen. Play on.

  129. I'm looking back now over my father's life because of this. He was a domestic violence offender who put three women, including my mother, in the hospital with serious injuries. But he was never a misogynist like a lot of DV offenders. He flew into violent rages but when he wasn't in that state, he seemed like a normal caring person. But he was a Marine during WWII. I know he must have had PTSD, because after work he'd drink in his room and read obsessively about the war. His condition detetiorated though and I don't think it was alcohol. I look back now and see signs of TBI turning into CTE. He needed more and more help to function but his fits of rage would drive his caregivers away. I wonder how many WWII vets exposed to explosions and head trauma wound up like that. If they'd only had the science back then regarding PTSD and TBI and CTE that we have now. Back then I think society just explained it as part of the cult of masculinity. War and football. It's what men do. I don't know how to cure the world of war. But maybe football needs to go?

  130. We only hear about the players that make it into the NFL but there are plenty of guys that don't, and still end up giving themselves CTE. If this article is taken to it's logical conclusion the game should be outlawed, as these folks pose a threat to the public. I don't necessarily think that is the case.

  131. I love American Football's complexities, strategies, and chance happenings, but I think I am done. Michael Vick gets a prison sentence for pitting individual animals against each other with drastic consequences. The NFL gets a pass on this activity.

  132. Athletes are often revered and pampered. They can also take on a sense of entitlement that sometimes promotes bad behavior. Young men in general already have still developing frontal lobes that limit their ability to foresee the consequences of their actions. Now add repeated head blows with the possibility of resulting brain damage, and there's a real prospect for egregious behavior. This may well be true in the aggregate, but it's more difficult to use this excuse in the individual case. There are two potential problems with a CTE defense. Plenty of individuals with all types of brain damage do not perpetrate crimes or exhibit antisocial behavior. Also, our ability to correlate brain injury patterns with specific behaviors is extremely limited. Maybe brain injury played a role in a specific crime, but maybe not. The liberal impulse is to use a reasonable excuse to moderate the judgement about bad behavior. But the pampered athlete seems somewhat less deserving. Aaron Hernandez often acted like an inherently bad person, but he did end up having severe CTE. I don't think we know enough yet to render a final judgement of his actions beyond acknowledging the possibilities.

  133. The players aren’t the only ones that are culpable. The coaches and the team owners also bear responsibility. They know what that kind of pounding does to someone’s head. And now they have scientific proof. So now they bear some responsibility for the violence - the murder and beatings - wrought by these players.

  134. "[W]hen large, strong men who have been taught to be aggressive find themselves in a conflict, they are more than capable of responding with brutal force." Really? Couldn't we teach people to be civil and polite? This is a fascinating legal issue. We don't allow being drunk or drugged to excuse criminal behavior, so can we apply a different standard to one who willingly bashed heads for money? OTOH, we can't punish people for being disabled. I suspect a lot of money will change hands before we all agree.

  135. "Could the evidence of C.T.E. now create a reasonable doubt about his criminal responsibility?" I've interviewed several kids convicted of murder for one book I published with William Morrow & Co. when it was a "real" publishing force and interviewed others on death row for a book that was never written and I also did similar interviews and research for other projects of interests. So, me – always interested in motive – can believe C.T.E. can explain a defendant's violent behavior and self-destruction. As a defense for murder, or an insanity or insanity-type defense, however, I can right now leave that as food for thought for lawyers, prosecutors, medical/forensic folks and judges and courts to work out. I followed this case somewhat by reading headline news stories but not religiously. Nevertheless, I never saw anything in those news stories about an explanation for his violence and couldn't ignore the lack of any news history his childhood and teens. What also intrigued was that what seemed, based on the limited news stories I read, that there was a sudden transition from nonviolent behavior to heinous actions that seemed out of character. I thought it was interesting that it was never addressed or explained. The idea that a loved one can start doing violently crazy things because of a still poorly understood medical problem is truly scary.

  136. Speaking as a physician, I will say that major damage to the frontal lobes as seen with CTE could potentially result result in disinhibition with loss of restraints on underlying sociopathic tendenacies. While CTE by itself may not necessarily result in violent behavior, it is arguable that in the absence of CTE that Hernandez might not have committed this heinous act. I also wonder whether the NFL is becoming a factory for violent behavior. Given self selection among NFL players for on-the-field violence, (ie violent collisions between players) and the brain consequences of these explosive impacts on behavioral disinhibition, I have to wonder in the future whether the NFL will become liable for violent off-the field acts including murder.

  137. End tackle and switch to flag football. It’ll take a while for people to warm up to it, but it could catch on. Of course you’d lose at the “fans” who watch just to see the bone crushing tackles (or fights in hockey) but that’s not a bad thing, except, of course, financially! And there’s the rub! The money boys could care less about the ruination of their players as long as the money rolls in. Alas, these days, that’s more and more the story of America!

  138. What do you say to a murder victim's family whose murderer has CTE or any other mental illness that you want to blame for the murder? "Sorry your family member is dead but he's just another victim of the big bad NFL. Go sue them. We'll help."? . Another question: CTE is certainly not limited to the NFL. Ice hockey players take as many if not more hits than football players. So do soccer players. Why is it only now comin out as a potential defense for murder? Perhaps because unlike ice hockey and soccer players in the US, pro football players can afford big, well funded legal teams with the time and resources to get creative? . I'm certainly not a fan of or an apologist for the NFL. I'm just a guy who's sick and tired of the endless excuses we seem to make for the bad behavior of the wealthy. If a kid in the projects commits murder and then suicide in prison nobody will ever give him any benefit of the doubt. Nobody rushes to say "it's the CTE that made him do it." But if a pro football player does these things, we do. It's called privilege.

  139. In reading this article and I look at the mans physique I wonder about steroids. Is it possible that it could be a combination of steroids and CTE or has this possibility been ruled out?

  140. "Football players in the United States are disproportionately charged with crimes of violence as compared with other professional athletes. One explanation might suggest that participating in a sport that demands aggression and violence selects the most aggressive and violent men for its ranks. An alternative but equally simple explanation might be that aggressive and violent men are naturally drawn to compete in an aggressive and violent sport. And, of course, when large, strong men who have been taught to be aggressive find themselves in a conflict, they are more than capable of responding with brutal force. After all, that’s what they’re paid to do on the football field." Or maybe those explanations are all wrong. FiveThirtyEight analyzed the data for NFL players and crime compared to the national average for men 25-29-years-old. The analysis showed that NFL players have lower rates of crime in all categories, although, for men in the same income level or poverty rate, they commit much more domestic violence than men in the same category. However, the rate for NFL players for non-domestic assault is 16.7% of the national rate. Murder is 27.8% of the national average but so infrequent for NFL players that the stats may not be reliable. It is disappointing that the authors would make such sweeping assertions about NFL players propensity for violence without citing statistics.

  141. Whether CTE is an excuse for murder or not, the fact is Hernandez was no longer fit to live as a free man. He was dangerous and because of his brain condition, repair or reform were both impossible. American football will obviously have to change how the game is played at every level and better head protection will have to be developed to prevent CTE. Otherwise I don't see how any of us can continue to watch with a clear conscience. I gave up watching boxing a long time ago for the same reason: the shocking brain damage it causes in many participants. Hernandez was only 27 and his condition was severe, so we can assume the damage begins early on.

  142. There is no moral "defense" for murder. But there is a legal defense. Beyond legal guilt and liability there is humble humane empathy. Confusing legality with morality, fairness and justice is a mistake. Enslaving Africans in America and conquering and colonizing Natives in America were both legal. Mr. Hernandez was not a WASP male.

  143. American football should be labelled as a felony in itself. Laws should be enacted to make playing it, enlisting our children to tryout for it, selling tickets for it, financial supporting it a crime. Just as present day humans are repulsed by the immediate gore and blood in the Colosseum of ancient Roman so should they now be repulsed by football's gradual but inevitable destruction of human brains and bodies and its' impact on the community.

  144. Has anybody checked whether the brains of dead rugby players display similar brain malfunctioning?

  145. Who, in his right mind, would let his child ever play football now that we all know what brain damage it causes?

  146. This is the most ridiculous thing. Always defense lawyers look for the lamest excuses for their actions of their clients. They never are responsible. his individual was a psychopath from the younger age even before he started playing football. Enough of excuses, classical Oh! he killed a person but he was such a nice guy. !Seriously!!!!. It would be nice to see the interpretation of the results by other experts as well, and see where some of his damage was. He is responsible not he C.T.E.. I am responsible of what I am writing and expressing as an opinion, not my computer and keyboard.

  147. When a person enlists in the Military of any branch their is a total recognition of the fact they are aware that they may be subject to bodily harm and at worst to surrender their life in that career. I don't know if a football player is made fully aware and signs in agreement to the same in their contracts. I know that the sport is all about money. We are all aware of that fact. But, perhaps if that were written into contacts, maybe, just maybe The organisation s and the players might give more thought to the game, the way it's played and the liability for the harm done.

  148. As others have posted, CTE was not the sole cause of Aaron Hernandez's criminal actions. His crimes had at least several causes in addition to playing a rough sport for most of his short life: psychological and social. We do know that brain disorders, such as CTE, dementia, and Alzheimer's can make people abusive and violent. Some have to be restrained. But Aaron lost his father at a young age, someone who could have taught and guided about what was right and wrong. Regarding the tendency of football players in general to commit violent acts, the authors point to a process of bilateral self-selection: teams select aggressive and violent men, and such men are disproportionately interested in playing professional football. Add to this, the probability of a certain fraction developing CTE and dementia, and you have a serious social problem that so far our capitalist and thrill-seeking society is reluctant to deal with.

  149. There is ample evidence that CTE exists in almost every football player posthumously tested to date. And it is not a huge leap to extrapolate that evidence to those players who have not been tested - because they are still alive. But it is quite a leap to presume legal innocence of all football players who commit violent crimes. Is this to be a legal defense going forward - that presumed innocence is all but guaranteed to these athletes based on an assumption of CTE to some extent? This is not merely a rhetorical question. People who participate in sports with frequent collisions are at extreme risk for CTE, to be sure. And they deserve both proper care (as we learn what that might be) and the legal protections of our Constitution. At the same time, however, someone's profession should not be a license for escaping consequences for behaviors that are otherwise against the law. This problem is easy enough to identify. I am at a loss to offer a solution.

  150. A murder is still a murder, C.T.E. or not. If my brain is such that I am naturally a violent sadistic rapist serial killer, does it makes it ok?

  151. Mayo Clinic lists "possible symptoms" and "suspected symptoms" of CTE. Suicidal thoughts and action is listed as a "possible symptom" and aggression is under the heading of "suspected symptoms." But the gist of it is that it's an emotional disorder, depression, mood swings, etc.,which can get progressively worse as a person ages, brought on by repeated head injuries. So, CTE is real, a degenerative disease of the brain caused by head injuries, and could it cause someone so affected to commit suicide or kill somebody? With all these "possible's" and "suspected's" I suppose it's possible or suspected?

  152. So many of the comments reflect an assumption that CTE is a unitary disorder that affects only one part of the brain and that effect is uniform among all victims of the disorder. The article and most of the comments lack understanding of the current state of scientific knowledge of CTE and, perforce, lack a coherent analysis of the proper societal response.