The family of Vincent Jackson announced Thursday the former NFL wide receiver had stage 2 chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
Jackson died by suicide in February 2021 at age 38. Jackson’s family is releasing the findings of his brain study to help raise awareness for CTE and its risks.
“It all made sense he didn’t come home. He didn’t know he had it I am I think had he known, he wouldn’t have felt so ashamed or alone," said Lindsey Jackson, Vincent's widow, to ABC news. "No one should have To die in a room by themselves."
“He shared with me once that alcohol made him feel calm and made him feel like himself. That his brain was fuzzy, and that this made it not fuzzy," said Lindsey Jackson.
“Vincent dedicated so much of his life to helping others. Even in his passing, I know he would want to continue that same legacy,” said Lindsey Jackson. “By donating his brain to the VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank, we hope to continue to see advancements in CTE research, enabling physicians to diagnose the disease in the living and ultimately find treatment options in the future. There is still a lot to be understood about CTE, and education is the key to prevention. The conversation around this topic needs to be more prevalent, and our family hopes that others will feel comfortable and supported when talking about CTE moving forward.”
According to a Boston University study, a football player’s odds of developing CTE may increase by as much as 30% per year played. Jackson played 23 years of tackle football, beginning at age 12.
He retired in 2018 after 12 seasons in the NFL, where he reached three Pro Bowls with the San Diego Chargers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
CTE is a progressive degenerative brain disease caused by repetitive head trauma, VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank says. Stage 2 CTE is associated with behavioral symptoms like aggression, impulsivity, depression, anxiety, paranoia, substance abuse, and suicidal ideation, along with progressive cognitive symptoms.
Stage 4 is the most severe stage and is usually associated with dementia.
“Vincent Jackson was a brilliant, disciplined, gentle giant whose life began to change in his mid-30s. He became depressed, with progressive memory loss, problem-solving difficulties, paranoia, and eventually extreme social isolation,” said Dr. Ann McKee, chief of neuropathology for the VA Boston Healthcare System and director of the BU CTE Center and VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank. “That his brain showed stage 2 CTE should no longer surprise us; these results have become commonplace. What is surprising is that so many football players have died with CTE, and so little is being done to make football, at all levels, safer by limiting the number of repetitive subconcussive hits. CTE will not disappear by ignoring it. We need to actively address the risk that football poses to brain health and to support the players who are struggling.”
Jackson was known for his kindness and generosity. He was the Buccaneers’ nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award for four of the five years he was there.
“We thank the Jackson family for supporting CTE research after such a terrible tragedy,” said Chris Nowinski, Ph.D., CLF CEO, and co-founder, and a former football player at Harvard. “More than 300 NFL players have been diagnosed with CTE. I hope current and former NFL players of Mr. Jackson’s generation see this as a wake-up call and get off the sideline in the fight against CTE. If a four-time Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee who never had a diagnosed concussion can lose his fight against CTE at just 38, it can happen to anyone.”
“Much of what we know about CTE comes from this researcher in Boston. And most of those brains that are studied are sent by families who suspect that their loved ones had some kind of abnormalities associated with playing a sport or with multiple head injuries," said Dr. Patrick Mularoni, the Medical Director of Sports Medicine at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital.
He said the NFL had made big changes based on that research, like taking a football player out of a game if they’ve suffered or may have suffered a concussion.
“What we see in individuals with a concussion is that if they get hit again while they have concussion symptoms, they tend to have much worse symptoms and more prolonged symptoms because of that second hit or those multiple hits," said Dr. Mularoni.
“I get a lot from parents, well how many concussions until we take them out forever? And we don’t have that number. Nobody has that number," said Dr. Dusty Marie Narducci, the team physician for USF.
She said that message is being passed down to kids getting into the sport. She says they’re making changes at USF, too — they have watchers that sit at the top of the stadium to look for players who look off or are uneasy on their feet and make sure to radio that into someone on the field.
“Just kind of bringing awareness that it’s OK to come out of the game, it’s OK to put yourself first, have a little self-compassion, and then you can come back even stronger," she said.
NFL Players diagnosed with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE)
Ken Stabler – Known as the Snake, the legendary quarterback died of colon cancer at the age of 69 in July 2015. After he heard about the suicide of former San Diego Chargers linebacker Junior Seau, he asked his family to donate his brain to research the disease. Boston University researchers diagnosed him with Stage 3 CTE at the end of his life. At the end of his life, CBS News reported that he hoped his younger family members would not play football like him.
Junior Seau – He was one of the NFL’s hardest hitters and fiercest players during his 20-year career. He was a team leader and 12-time Pro Bowl selection. At 43, he used a handgun to shoot himself in the chest. He left no suicide note but did leave a piece of paper with some lyrics from his favorite country song about a man who had it all and then made a mess of his life who couldn’t forgive himself. The National Institute of Health found Seau’s brain showed definitive signs of CTE.
Bubba Smith – He was a legendary defensive end for several NFL teams over a 10-year career who became known for his acting chops, including his biggest role is Moses Hightower in six Police Academy Movies. After his death at 66, Boston University researchers diagnosed him with Stage 3 CTE. At the time, he was the 90th of 94 former NFL player brains studied where CTE was discovered, according to USA Today.
Dave Duerson – A four-time Pro Bowl safety for the Chicago Bears and a Super Bowl champion, Duerson died of a self-inflicted gunshot to his chest in 2011. His last text to his family asked that his brain be donated to the NFL’s brain bank. Boston University researchers said Duerson did have CTE.
Mike Webster – one of the most legendary Pittsburgh Steelers players from their four Super Bowl wins in the 1970s, left the game in 1991 after 17 years as a center. Just 11 years later, he was dead from a heart attack. His physical and mental health declined rapidly after his playing career, and his brain was confirmed to have CTE. The doctor estimated he had been in the equivalent of 25,000 car crashes due to his playing career.
Former and current NFL players and their families worried about possible CTE symptoms can reach out to the CLF HelpLine for support. The HelpLine staff provides personalized resources and recommendations for treatment.
Dan Trujillo at WFTS first reported this story.