It’s been nearly eight months since the sports world lost Demaryius Thomas. His philanthropic work is well documented, and he had one of the most inspirational impacts on football that a player could have. Thomas’ parents are finally revealing that Thomas died due to suffocation or cardiac arrest and he was suffering from second stage chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
This public learned of this after Thomas’ parents, Bobby Thomas and Katina Stuckey Smith, sat down with ABC’s “Good Morning America” for an exclusive interview, where they revealed that they had donated Thomas’ brain to research. They also said his death was caused by a seizure disorder that led to cardiac arrest.
Thomas was found dead on Dec. 9, and his death sent shock waves through the NFL world. The former Broncos star was just 33 years old and had retired the year before. It was tragic to consider how a healthy, young, and strong former athlete would die in the manners he did and there were no answers for it.
But with Boston University doctors’ finding that Thomas had CTE, which is commonly caused by and associated with repeated hits to the head, he becomes one of many former NFL players whose lives have taken tragic turns due to brain trauma.
While CTE can only accurately and definitively be diagnosed after death, the signs and symptoms associated with the disease has become increasingly common amongst football players and boxers. As awareness of CTE has increased, by 2017 some 99 percent of players’ brains tested for CTE were found to show evidence of the condition. Memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, and other symptoms come as a result of this degenerative brain disease.
Those close to him noticed that Thomas had begun showing some of these signs like memory loss, and paranoia, and isolation in the last year leading up to his death.
Thomas’ mother would detail Demaryius’ pain and how he was trying to deal with these conditions.
“His mood would change, and he would also isolate himself sometimes,” Smith said. “[Demaryius] would tell me, he was like, ‘Mom, I don’t know what’s goin’ on with my body — I gotta get myself together.’ And he said, ‘I don’t feel like myself anymore.'”
It was speculated that Thomas may’ve had another condition that he was battling along with CTE, as he was having periodic seizures which isn’t a common symptom of CTE. According to Dr. Ann McKee, a neuropathologist who analyzed his brain, he was battling a deadly concoction of conditions that aided to the detriment of his brain and health.
“He had two different conditions in parallel,” McKee said.
Because of these two different conditions that Thomas suffered, McKee cannot immediately blame CTE as the main cause of Thomas’ death; rather, the CTE condition changed Thomas’ behavior and personality. Some of these personality and behavior changes may have played a role in the different collapses and mental lapses Thomas reportedly had.
Thomas’ father also detailed the severity of Thomas’ seizures and how badly they affected him.
“He would shake so much, like, he couldn’t breathe,” his father said. “You could hear him say, ‘tch-tch-tch-tch,’ like the wind tryin’ to come out. … They got to the point where he was having three or four back to back.”
Thomas had clearly shown signs of CTE, and while they weren’t ignored, many people aren’t educated about the facts and details of the disease. With that being said, tons of past football players are now starting to all be diagnosed with CTE, and this is becoming a repetitive issue that can potentially jeopardize the game of football as a whole.
While CTE is gaining much more awareness, there is still much more work to do with trying to figure out and understand how to fight CTE. The fear of CTE is derailing young players’ careers by scaring them into retiring early, and the older players who’ve been in the league for a while are fearing that they would be at a higher risk of developing it due to the amount of hits they’ve taken.
According to a 2017 TSL article, “In 2016, the NFL publicly acknowledged for the first time a connection between football and CTE. In June of 2015, a federal judge approved a class-action lawsuit settlement between the NFL and thousands of former players, providing up to $5 million per retired player for serious medical conditions associated with repeated head trauma.
According to CNN.com, Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, known as CTE, was found in 99% of deceased NFL players’ brains that were donated to scientific research,” according to a study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2017.”
The game is already turning into flag football. But if the NFL front office doesn’t figure something out to combat head hits and injuries, CTE could be the death of the NFL, and players like Demaryius Thomas are prime examples of why.