Bubba Smith Is Latest Former N.F.L. Player Diagnosed To Have Had C.T.E.
Bubba Smith, the former N.F.L. star who went on to have a successful career as an actor, is the latest former pro football player to be diagnosed as having a degenerative brain disease linked to repeated concussions:
Bubba Smith, the All-Pro defensive end in the N.F.L. who went on to a second career as a movie actor, had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the degenerative brain disease linked to repeated head trauma, when he died in 2011.
The findings were confirmed by researchers affiliated with the Department of Veterans Affairs, Boston University and the Concussion Legacy Foundation, and released on Tuesday morning with the permission of the executor of Smith’s estate.
Smith is the 90th former N.F.L. player found to have had C.T.E. by the researchers at the Boston University brain bank; they have examined 94 former pro players. On a scale of 1 to 4 used by the neuropathologist who examined Smith’s brain, Smith had Stage 3 C.T.E., with symptoms that included cognitive impairment and problems with judgment and planning.
Some scientists caution that much remains unknown about C.T.E., including why it afflicts some players but not others. But even the N.F.L., which for years denied there was any connection between head trauma sustained on the field and long-term cognitive impairment, has admitted that there is a link.
At 6 feet 7 inches and nearly 300 pounds, Smith was known as a quick and powerful lineman. During a standout career at Michigan State, where he was named an all-American in 1965 and 1966, Smith’s size and prowess gave rise to the chant “Kill, Bubba, Kill,” which emanated frequently from the stands. (He later co-wrote a book whose title was the chant.)
Smith was chosen as the No. 1 overall pick in the 1967 draft by the Baltimore Colts. He was a member of the teams that lost Super Bowl III to the Jets and beat the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl V. After five seasons in Baltimore, Smith played two seasons with the Oakland Raiders and two seasons in Houston with the Oilers.
After Smith retired following the 1976 season, he used his size and fame to build a second career in film and television. He was best known for his role as Moses Hightower, the mild-mannered florist-turned-lawman in the film comedy “Police Academy” (1984) and many of its sequels.
He appeared on many shows, including “Good Times,” “Charlie’s Angels,” “Semi-Tough,” “Hart to Hart,” “Married With Children” and “Family Matters.” He was also seen in a well-known series of Miller Lite commercials — “Tastes Great; Less Filling” — in the 1970s and ’80s.
Smith joins dozens of notable N.F.L. players found to have had C.T.E., including Junior Seau, Frank Gifford and Ken Stabler, Smith’s teammate on the Raiders.
We’re at the point now, of course, where it no longer comes as a surprise when a former N.F.L. player is determined to have had C.T.E. at the time of their death regardless of whether or not they were exhibiting symptoms, such as the short-term memory loss that Terry Bradshaw has described, suggesting that this is likely to be the case. In nearly all of these cases, the cause of death has been something other than C.T.E., although one can arguably say that those former players who suffered from diagnosed mental disorders and ended up committing suicide arguably can be said to have died due to C.T.E. Whatever the cause of death, though, it seems fairly clear that nearly all of these players had their quality of life in their post-N.F.L. life adversely impacted by this brain disease and that, until recently, neither the league nor the sports media that slavishly covers the league exactly the way the N.F.L. wants have taken this issue seriously. With reports like this, and no doubt more to come, it seems like that is finally changing. The question is what, if anything, the league will do to address the issue.
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