(CBSNews) NEW YORK – For 11 years, Dave Duerson made his living as a hard-hitting safety in the NFL and was known for his brains as well as his brawn as an outspoken advocate of player rights. But last week, at age 50, Duerson sent perhaps his most powerful message to the game, CBS News chief investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian reports.Duerson committed suicide with a gun shot to the chest, which left his brain undamaged. His pro football career was filled with accomplishments: two time Super Bowl champion and four trips to the Pro Bowl. But after football, his life and his health began to fall apart.
Dave Duerson, ex-Bear, dead at 50Just hours before the shooting, Duerson had texted family members requesting his brain be donated to science and examined for a disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, caused by repeated blows to the head.
“There’s no question that NFL players are at higher risk for CTE than normal people,” said Christopher Nowinski, co-director of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at Boston University.
Duerson’s brain was donated to Boston University, where researchers have studied the brains of 14 other former NFL players, 13 of which had CTE. Duerson’s request has re-ignited the debate over the impact this organized violence has on the brain and its links to dementia and depression that are still untreatable.
“We can’t diagnose it yet in living people,” said Nowinski. “We also can’t treat it.”
In the last year, the NFL has stepped up its efforts to address this issue, revamping its head, neck and spine committee, increasing fines on helmet-to-helmet hits and donating $1 million to The Boston Center.
“It’s tragic,” Bears fan Nick Sideris said about Duerson. “I remember him on that ’85 Bears team. He was an integral part of it.”
After his career ended with the Arizona Cardinals in 1993, Duerson ran a successful food-service business, but in recent years his life deteriorated. He lost his business, home and, in 2007, his wife to divorce. Most recently he told friends he was experiencing issues on the left side of his brain.
But his heart never left the game. Last spring he warned a gathering of former players about dementia. and now a singular, tragic statement impossible to ignore.