As Americans are still reeling from the shock of the recent drama surrounding former Patriot Aaron Hernandez — a “not guilty” verdict, and then an alleged jail cell suicide — the ongoing story has taken a disturbing twist.
Following Hernandez's death, his family decided to donate his brain to science — specifically research into chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive condition that has become more and more prevalent among football players (and other athletes) who have suffered repeated head injuries.
CTE, which was initially linked to boxing, carries with it a range of symptoms, according to protectthebrain.org:
The symptoms of CTE can be debilitating and may have life-changing effects for both the individual and for his or her family. Some of the most common include loss of memory, difficulty controlling impulsive or erratic behavior, impaired judgment, behavioral disturbances including aggression and depression, difficult with balance, and a gradual onset of dementia.
An individual with CTE may mistakenly ascribe the symptoms to the normal process of aging, or might receive a wrong diagnosis due to the fact that many of the symptoms are similar to other conditions such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease.
CTE has been diagnosed in several notable cases which received widespread media attention, including the suicide deaths of NFL player Junior Seau, and professional wrestler Chris Benoit who committed suicide after murdering his wife and son.
Hernandez's brain was supposed to be turned over to Boston University's CTE unit — but Jose Baez, who represented Hernandez at trial, says that arrangements made toward that end were not honored.
The Boston Herald reported:
“We made arrangements for Boston University's CTE unit to take possession of Aaron's brain,” Baez said. “We made these arrangements with the medical examiner yesterday. It was completely agreed upon.”
And though Baez said the Boston University CTE unit had coordinated to remove his brain in an appropriate way so the “study can be done properly,” he said things changed overnight when the medical examiner determined that it will “retain the brain of Aaron Hernandez and that their office is better equipped than Boston University's CTE unit.”
Baez said he would take all measures - including filing a lawsuit - in order to have Hernandez's brain moved to BU.
“It is our position that they are holding Aaron Hernandez's brain illegally.”
According to NBC News, the change in plans came when the medical examiner's office decided to first conduct a study of its own:
Dan Bennett, Secretary of Public Safety and Security, explained that further tests may be necessary before Hernandez's body can be released.
“The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner is conducting an investigation into the circumstances of Aaron Hernandez's death, which may require further analysis of his body,” Bennett said in a statement. “Once that is complete the brain will be released to Boston University. No one is going to stand in the way of the family's wishes for Boston University to have Aaron Hernandez's brain.”
Boston University declined to comment on the current state of the agreement regarding the status of Hernandez's brain: “It is our policy that we do not and cannot discuss any ongoing, completed or potential case(s) without specific consent from the family.”
Update [3/20/17, 6:22 p.m.]: According to an update in the NBC News story cited in this piece, authorities have now announced that Hernandez's brain will be released:
“Now that the cause and manner of death have been determined, the brain will be released to Boston University's Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center as Mr. Hernandez's family wishes,” the statement from the district attorney's office and police said.