New reports from West Virginia University (WVU) researchers say that former Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chris Henry suffered from a chronic brain injury that many have influenced his behavior prior to death.
The doctors and researchers involved did a microscopic tissue analysis of Henry’s brain, and it showed that he suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). The findings were publicly announced by two researchers from the Brain Injury Research Institute at WVU on Monday afternoon, with Henry’s mother, Carolyn Lee Henry standing beside them.
The charismatic and often troubled Bengals player died last December at the age of 26. The event came as a result of Henry falling from the back of his pickup truck that his fiancée was driving near their home in Charlotte. Even after police finished investigating the incident, it was unclear whether Henry jumped or fell off. The same police reports showed that there were no alcohol or illegal substances in his body at the time of death. Further, an autopsy confirmed that he died of head injuries, including a fractured skull and brain hemorrhaging.
The West Virginia researchers, who released their findings today, concluded that the condition is caused by multiple head impacts, regardless of whether they come with a concussion diagnosis or not. This is fitting because Henry did not have a documented concussion case in his college or professional career. Many studies, including those done by the NFL, have found that retired players have a higher rate of mental diseases and memory problems than normal people.
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Interestingly enough, CTE carries certain neurobehavioral symptoms including but not limited to: failure at personal and business relationships, use of drugs and alcohol, and depression.
Throughout his career, Henry constantly struggled with off-the-field issues. His rookie season came to an abrupt end after an arrest for marijuana possession. Later, after a playoff loss to the Steelers, he was arrested for a gun charge in Florida. Then, in 2007, he was arrested for half the season when commission Roger Goodell cracked down on personal conduct. He was arrested for a fifth time and referred to as a “one-man crime wave” by the judge. After the last arrest, the Bengals released him.
In 2008, Henry returned to the league and played 12 games. Then, at the start of the 2009 season, he made a commitment to turn his life around. Teammates said that they noticed a change in his behavior, and a true desire to better himself as a player and person.
"I think football is a great sport, and we want to make it safer," said Julian Bailes, one of the researchers involved in presenting the findings, "but we have to continue to move forward with changes made recently and take the head impacts out of the sport as much as possible."
The NFL has not yet released any comments in response to the study.