There is an increased awareness among sports at all levels about the impact the traumatic brain injuries have upon players’ lives. Nevertheless, the “Killer Inside” offers a shocking account of football player Aaron Hernandez. He was a former college standout and NFL tight end with the New England Patriots convicted of murdering a friend in 2015. Then in 2017, Hernandez committed suicide in jail at age 27.

The autopsy revealed that Hernandez had a severe case of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) that was likely caused by blows to the head during his years of playing football. While doctors cannot confirm cases except through an autopsy, they now find evidence of this neurodegenerative disease in former athletes involved in such contact sports as football, hockey, rugby, and boxing.

The stages of CTE

The film uses interviews with friends and family, teammates, his defense attorney and journalists who followed his story. They share stories of Hernandez and help identify clues and symptoms that only now can be adequately explained through the CTE diagnosis. The stages of CTE are:

  • Stage 1: This includes trouble focusing and recurring headaches.
  • Stage 2: This includes bouts of depression, mood swings, erratic or impulsive behavior, and memory loss.
  • Stage 3: This involves a reduction of executive functions (goal-oriented action), inability to organize their lives, failure to regulate their behavior and more pronounced symptoms of the previous stages.
  • Stage 4: Along with all of the above, this features paranoia, aggression and dementia-like symptoms.

No simple conclusions

Some critics were quick to point out that the filmmakers took certain leaps to explain the story. According to CNN, “While there’s a tendency to indict football, at every level, for exploiting young talent, there are so many variables baked into Hernandez’s particular tale as to muddy that message.”

Not everyone with CTE kills people, and there were other troubling details about an abusive and alcoholic father and the son’s repressed sexuality. But the medical fact is that this talented football player had CTE and exhibited symptoms of it as far back as his teens.

Families can get the help they need

Some families of former athletes likely deal with the fallout from CTE, traumatic brain injuries or other neurodegenerative disorders. They may have even received support from funds set up by the NFL and the NCAA for victims of head trauma. Those families starting to see the above signs, or are not sure how they should proceed, can talk to a personal injury attorney who specializes in head injuries. Each case is different, but these legal professionals provide helpful insights into getting the compensation that the victims deserve.