Retired former Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, who died last year at age 33 after suffering a seizure, became the latest NFL player to be diagnosed with CTE on Tuesday, Dr. Chris Nowinski announced, following an examination of his brain.
CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) is a degenerative brain disease associated with recurring hits to the head. Thomas was diagnosed with Stage 2 CTE at Boston University after his brain was donated by his family. Dr. Ann McKee conducted the examination of Thomas’ brain with the permission of his parents.
“I hope this is a wake-up call to high profile current & former # players that CTE is rampant among them, and they need to get involved in creating real solutions,” Nowinski wrote. “CTE should be their number one off-the-field issue.”
Further context on Demaryius Thomas’ passing
During the final years of his life after retiring from the NFL, Thomas experienced issues.
“He struggled with erratic behavior, memory loss, & paranoia,” Nowinski wrote on social media.
Although a definitive cause of death wasn’t announced by Boston University, it was reported that it was likely a seizure that led to Thomas’ passing. Thomas suffered from seizures following a car accident in 2019. That incident led to other accidents and falls.
Katina Smith, Thomas mother, released a statement through the Concussion Legacy Foundation.
“Once I became aware of CTE and began to familiarize myself with the symptoms, I noticed that Demaryius was isolating himself and I saw other changes in him,” Smith said. “He was just so young, and it was horrible to see him struggle. His father and I hope all families learn the risks of playing football. We don’t want other parents to have to lose their children like we did.”
Thomas died last December, months after a Pro Bowl career with the Broncos, Houston Texans, and New York Jets. A former first-round draft pick from Georgia Tech who had five consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons and earned a Super Bowl championship while catching passes from Peyton Manning, Thomas set a Super Bowl record with 13 receptions in a Super Bowl loss to the Seattle Seahawks. He finished his career with 724 receptions for 9,763 yards and 63 touchdowns.
At the time of Thomas’ death, he was honored with several emotional tributes, including Manning.
“DT was a better person than he was a player, and he was a Hall of Fame player. That tells you how good of a person he was. He treated my kids like they were his own. He was there for every teammate’s charity event. Absolutely devastated.”
Thomas now a part of a growing list of CTE diagnoses
A 2017 study found that 99 percent of tested brains of NFL players had various stages of CTE. Among the former players affected by CTE include Ken Stabler, Aaron Hernandez, Ray Easterling, Junior Seau, and John Mackey.
The brain injury study at Boston University School of Medicine concluded that 33 of 34 players tested post-mortem had signs of CTE. That included Jovan Belcher, who, like Seau, Dave Duerson, and Easterling, died of suicide.
And now, Thomas has joined this unfortunate growing list of those who have been diagnosed with CTE following their death.
Other former players whose post-death examinations revealed CTE include Phillip Adams, Colt Brennan, Dwight Clark, Lou Creekmur, Frank Gifford, Chris Henry, Vincent Jackson, Terry Long, Ollie Matson, Earl Morrall, Tommy Nobis, Bubba Smith, Mike Webster, Mosi Tatupu and Justin Strzelczyk.
NFL players, studies show, are also at high risk for ALS — amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The neurodegenerative disorder has been found to be a contributing factor for NFL players. Many of these players also dealt with dementia unrelated to ALS or CTE and were diagnosed post-mortem. That includes Lawrence Phillips, Jim Ringo, and Steve Smith.
Although CTE can’t be diagnosed formally unless a brain is donated and diagnosed, several players have disclosed symptoms that include ALS, dementia, or memory loss. That all falls in line with possible CTE.
Among those that fall into this category include Mike Adamle, O.J. Brigance, Lance Briggs, Tony Dorsett, Mark Duper, Brett Favre, Steve Gleason, Larry Johnson, Jamal Lewis, Bernie Kosar, Ted Johnson, Jim McMahon, Kyle Turley, Darryl Talley, and O.J. Simpson.
“I want to thank Bobby Thomas and Katina Smith – and all families – for their trust in @annmckeemd and this team,” Nowinski wrote. “We’d have no idea why so many former football players struggle with neurological disorders after their career without the families who say yes to brain donation.”