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Jovan Belcher likely had CTE, a study of his brain shows

(Jamie Squire / Getty Images)

A post-mortem examination of the brain of Jovan Belcher, the Kansas City Chiefs player who shot his girlfriend to death and then committed suicide in December 2012, showed that the linebacker was likely suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

Belcher, 25, killed his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, on the morning of Dec. 1, 2012, then drove to Arrowhead Stadium and turned the gun on himself as former coach Romeo Crennel and former general manager Scott Pioli pleaded with him. CTE is a degenerative disease linked to dementia, aggression, confusion and depression in people who had had repeated head trauma. It has been found in the brains of a number of former NFL players who have died. The Kansas City Star first reported the results of Belcher’s autopsy.

ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” obtained the results, as well, and in the report Dr. Piotr Kozlowski writes that he detected neurofibrillary tangles of tau protein, which is identified with CTE.. The tangles were evident all through Belcher’s hippocampus, an area of the brain involved with memory, learning and emotion. From ESPN:

Belcher’s body was exhumed one year after his death, and his brain examined two weeks later. Kozlowski was hired to diagnose the brain by court-appointed Kansas City attorneys who represent the interests of Belcher’s daughter. Belcher’s mother, Cheryl Shepherd, initiated the process of exhuming her son’s body in order to have his brain studied, attorney Dirk Vandever said.
Vandever declined to comment about why his law firm released Kozlowski’s findings now, almost nine months after the diagnosis. “Outside the Lines” requested copies of images of Belcher’s brain to send to another neuropathologist for independent analysis, but that request was denied.
Neurosurgeon Dr. Julian Bailes, chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery and co-director of the North Shore Neurological Institute in Chicago, did not study Belcher’s brain, but said of the possible findings: “It is of great interest. Violence against others is not typically part of the CTE picture. But it was in the case of [former professional] wrestler Chris Benoit. It would be nice to have these findings corroborated.
“If correct, they’re very compelling.”