During the frenzy of National Signing Day, some tragic news slipped in among the blue-chip announcements: Former Alabama and Oakland Raiders star Kenny Stabler had chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
The degenerative brain disease — known as “CTE” in football circles — has been discovered in the brain tissue of hundreds of dead NFL players.
CTE was originally diagnosed by Dr. Bennett Omalu, whose work inspired a 2014 New York Times bestseller (League of Denial) and a recent Will Smith movie (Concussion).
A cousin of boxing’s “punch drunk” syndrome, CTE’s discovery has already affected the game.
Several players have been cutting careers short, with future Hall of Fame receiver Calvin Johnson being the latest to mull an early retirement. Youth participation is dropping off steadily, and lawmakers are wondering whether high school football will be extinguished in some areas of the country.
Stabler, 69, died this past summer after a long battle with colon cancer.
At this juncture, it’s only possible to diagnose a person with CTE after they’ve passed away. Tests on Stabler’s brain indicated an advanced form of CTE, according to NYTimes.com‘s John Branch.
In many cases, victims go through violent mood swings and behavior that is “not them,” so to speak.
When Stabler made his final visit to the hospital in July, he told his longtime partner, Kim Bush, he was “tired.”
“I knew that was it,” Bush told Branch afterward. “I knew that he had gone the distance. Because Kenny Stabler was never tired.”
Stabler, a Foley, Ala., native played at Alabama in the mid-’60s before embarking on a 16-year pro career that featured a Super Bowl win and the 1974 NFL MVP award.
He’s currently a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which will announce its newest class on Saturday.