Thomas’s diagnosis has been associated with “progressive behavior, cognitive and mood abnormalities.” The former NFL star developed depression, anxiety, panic attacks and memory problems in the year before his death. Stage 4 CTE, the most severe, is typically associated with dementia.
“As I became aware of CTE and began to familiarize myself with the symptoms, I noticed that Demaryius was self-isolating and I saw other changes in him,” said Katina Smith, Thomas’s mother, in the family statement . “He was so young and it was horrible to see him fight. His father and I hope all families learn the risks of playing football. We don’t want other parents to have to lose their children the way we did.”
Smith and Bobby Thomas, the four-time Pro Bowler’s father, donated their son’s brain for research after the family’s Concussion Legacy Foundation suggested the idea. Ann McKee, a neuropathologist and director of BU’s CTE center, was part of the research team that studied Thomas’s brain. According to the New York Times, McKee emphasized that Thomas had “two different conditions at the same time” in relation to his seizures and the CTE diagnosis. McKee, whose team has diagnosed more than 300 former NFL players with CTE, said seizures are generally not associated with early-stage CTE.
“Like so many before, we found stage 2 CTE in the brain of Demaryius Thomas,” McKee said. “The question I keep asking myself is, ‘When is enough enough?’ When will athletes, parents and the general public stop ignoring the risks of American football and insist that the game be modified to reduce sub-concussion hits and that athletes be comprehensively evaluated at the beginning and end of each season ?
Thomas played for three teams during his 10 seasons in the NFL, but he is best known for his nine years with the Denver Broncos, who picked him with the 22nd pick of Georgia Tech’s 2010 draft. He won a Super Bowl with the Broncos and was later traded to the Houston Texans in the 2018 season. After a brief stint with the New England Patriots the following preseason, Thomas ended his career with the New York Jets and retired in 2021, six months before his death.
Bruce Murray spent years directing the ball. He fears it has taken a toll.
Athletes in a variety of sports, including football and hockey, are at risk of brain damage, but Thomas is the latest NFL player to be diagnosed with the degenerative brain disease. It was found in the brains of Hall of Famers Willie Wood and Junior Seau, and Phillip Adams, the former NFL player who killed six people in Rock Hill, SC last year and was later diagnosed with stage 2 CTE .
Chris Nowinski, a neuroscientist and CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, said Thomas’ diagnosis stands out because he recently retired and several of his former teammates are still in the NFL. He said he hopes news of Thomas’ death and his parents’ donation would help persuade team owners to take greater safety measures and warn other players who may be experiencing similar symptoms.
“I was very disappointed with the reaction from the football community,” said Nowinski. “People can change. This is a completely preventable disease. For parents considering signing their kids up for tackle football this fall at age 10, this may be the case that makes them wait until high school to put on a helmet. … Maybe it will send a message to former players if they have symptoms.”