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Former NFL player Phillip Adams had stage 2 Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) when he killed six people before taking his own life, according to a doctor who studied his brain. Dr. Ann McKee of Boston University examined Mr. Adams’ brain tissue, and noted Mr. Adams’ brain showed signs of severe CTE in both frontal lobes. 

Such abnormalities could have contributed to his erratic behavior that led to the shooting deaths of six victims. CTE symptoms include major changes in cognitive processing, as well as mood instability. 

What is CTE? 

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE, is a degenerative brain disorder, often discovered in athletes who have a history of brain injury or trauma. Brain cells inevitably die, with symptoms often not appearing until years after the initial brain trauma. 

CTE has consistently been found in football players. The condition is usually discovered post-mortem. In an interview on Tuesday, Dr. McKee said, “Adams’ 20-year career in football put him at a high risk for CTE.”

In an interview with USA Today following the April tragedy, Mr. Adams’ sister, Lauren Adams, said, “His mental health degraded fast and terribly bad. There was unusual behavior. I’m not going to get into all that (symptoms). We definitely did notice signs of mental illness that was extremely concerning, that was not like we had ever seen. … He was struggling with his mental health.” 

Mr. Adams’ father, Alonzo Adams, concurred, stating, “I think the football messed him up.” Mr. Adams played in the NFL for six seasons, during which time he suffered multiple injuries, including concussions.

Mr. Adams is one of many former NFL players who had CTE, several of whom died by suicide. Aaron Hernandez, who was charged with murder and later died by suicide while in prison, was just one player with CTE. Former San Diego Chargers player Junior Seau was another. 

Toxicology reports following the shooting also found amphetamines in Mr. Adams’ blood, for which he had a prescription, as well as Kratom, which is an over-the-counter drug not FDA approved. Dr. McKee did not note what role the medications played in Mr. Adams’ behavior. 

Family Statement 

Mr. Adams’ family released a statement following the events of April 2021.

“As we process these results we are deeply saddened by the events that occurred on April 7 and we continue to pray for the families of the victims. We are pleased to have a better understanding of the mental turmoil that Phillip was dealing with during the last moments of his life. We cannot say that we are surprised by these results. However it is shocking to hear how severe his condition was.”

“After going through medical records through his football career, we do know that he was desperately seeking help from the NFL, but was denied all claims due to his inability to remember things and to handle seemingly simple tasks, such as traveling hours away to see doctors and going through extensive evaluations.”

“We hope to bring awareness to this condition so players young and old can understand the risks … Phillip is not the first to battle with this disease and he will not be the last.”

Erika Stone is a graduate student in the Master of Social Work program at the University of Oklahoma, and a graduate assistant at Schusterman Library. A Chess Memorial Scholar, she has a B.A. in Psychology...

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