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NFL great Ken Stabler had brain disease CTE


    Oakland Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler stood on the sidelines during the second half of the 1976 AFC championship game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Oakland, Calif. Boston researchers say Stabler had the brain disease CTE.

BOSTON » Former Oakland Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler, the late NFL MVP and Super Bowl winner who is a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, has been diagnosed with the brain disease CTE, Boston University researchers said today.

Stabler, who died of colon cancer at 69 in July, had Stage 3 chronic traumatic encephalopathy, Dr. Ann McKee told The Associated Press. McKee said the disease was widespread throughout his brain, with “quite severe” damage to the regions involving learning, memory and regulation of emotion.

“We’ve now found CTE in former NFL players who played every position except kicker,” said McKee, a professor of neurology at Boston University. “While we know on average that certain positions experience more repetitive head impacts and are more likely at greater risk for CTE, no position is immune.”

The diagnosis was first reported by The New York Times.

The disease, which can be diagnosed only after death, is linked to repeated brain trauma and associated with symptoms such as memory loss, depression and progressive dementia. CTE has been found in the brains of dozens of former football players.

According to Chris Nowinski, the founder of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, Stabler told his family he wanted to have his brain studied after learning that former NFL linebacker Junior Seau had been diagnosed with the disease. In 2012, Seau shot himself in the chest at the age of 43.

“What is interesting about Ken Stabler is that he anticipated his diagnosis years in advance,” Nowinski wrote in an email to the AP. “And even though he’s a football icon, he began actively distancing himself from (the) game in his final years, expressing hope that his grandsons would choose not to play.”

McKee said the extent of the damage to Stabler’s brain was surprising because he was relatively young when he died and because he was a quarterback and thought to be less exposed to repeated head trauma.

“There was no evidence of any other brain disorder to explain the difficulties he experienced during life,” McKee said.

The left-handed Stabler, nicknamed “Snake” for his ability to escape from defenders, led Alabama to an undefeated season in 1966. A second-round draft pick by Oakland, he was the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in 1974 and led the Raiders to victory in the 1977 Super Bowl.

In all, Stabler threw for 27,938 career yards and had a .661 winning percentage over 15 seasons, which also included stints with the Houston Oilers and New Orleans Saints. He was selected as a finalist for the Hall of Fame by its Seniors Committee; the inductees will be announced Saturday.

Denver Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall said at a Super Bowl availability today that the news bothers him.

“You’ve got to look after yourself because, really, nobody else will,” he said, adding that he has heard about players walking away from the game but can’t do it himself.

“The game is so much a part of who I am, so I can’t give up a big part of me. I just hope the game doesn’t one day take away a big part of me,” he said. “I mean, Lord willing it doesn’t happen, but say something does happen, I don’t think I’m going to regret it because I’ll say, ‘I did what I wanted to do.’”

AP Sports Writers Teresa Walker, Arnie Stapleton and Steve Reed contributed to this story from Santa Clara, California.

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  • this guy was the man. I watched him and cliff branch playing horse when they were here for the Super Teams. So much net… Of course, Branch stuffed the ball and beat Stabler.

    • Pro football still lure kids from all walks of life for fame and fortune. Parents are also to be blamed, but the trend is turning as more news about the dreaded CTE is being disseminated. Once parents often encouraged their sons to muscle up including using illegal muscle enchanting drugs.

    • Nice sentiment but the news of all the signings today makes your stance irrelevant. Money and greed trumps all concerns for the well being of the players. They’re the modern day gladiators, trotted out for spectator’s enjoyment (yup, I’m one of them) then discarded as their value is spent. Most of the gladiators are already highly brain dead anyway, sucked into slavery by the very ones who should be protecting them – the parents, the coaches, and the schools . Blinded by the light put on them by spectators like me willing to drop big bucks to witness violence choreographed and presented as an art form. How we eat it up and yell for more blood. Sickening? Yes.

  • Dr. Ann McNee knew about Kenny’s CTE but she kept her mouth shut instead. Shame on her. How many more football players did she exam and knew about CTE. She’s not the only doctor with this knowledge, shame on all of them.

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