Ken Stabler slung the ball around for the Oakland Raiders in the 1970s, far before the attention and spotlight on brain injuries of the modern NFL. Stabler, who passed away at 69 years old last July, donated his brain to scientists in Massachusetts, and those scientists discovered Stabler shared the same disease associated with dozens of modern players like Junior Seau, or Chris Henry, or Jovan Belcher—the degenerative brain disease known as CTE, thought to be caused by exposure to multiple concussions.
Stabler passed away from colon cancer, but an examination of his brain posthumously revealed the legendary quarterback suffered from CTE for years prior to his passing.
The New York Times gives essential context about the link between playing football and CTE:
On a scale of 1 to 4, Stabler had high Stage 3 chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or C.T.E., the degenerative brain disease believed to be caused by repeated blows to the head, according to researchers at Boston University. The relationship between concussions and brain degeneration is still poorly understood, and some experts caution that other factors, like unrelated mood problems or dementia, might contribute to symptoms experienced by those later found to have had C.T.E.
What's most surprising about the diagnosis, perhaps, is Stabler's position on the field. Because there are five 300-pound-plus humans (offensive linemen) whose primary job it is to protect you from being touched at all times, it's thought to be by far the safest position in football. Evidently, even the safest position can't protect one from suffering the horrors of CTE.
Michael Rosen is a reporter for Fusion based out of Oakland.