Tuesday's NFL: Former receiver Demaryius Thomas' family says he had CTE

Associated Press

Boston — Former NFL Pro Bowl wide receiver Demaryius Thomas is the latest in a growing list of football players diagnosed with CTE.

His family said Tuesday that researchers found that Thomas, who died in December at age 33, suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy. The four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver was dealing with depression, anxiety and other CTE symptoms at the time of his death.

CTE, a degenerative brain disease which can only be diagnosed posthumously, has been found in hundreds of former NFL players as well as semi-pro and high school soccer players. Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau had CTE when he died in 2012 of a gunshot wound to the chest.

Former NFL star Demaryius Thomas, who died last December at age 33, had CTE, his family said Tuesday.

Hall of Famers Ken Stabler, Frank Gifford and Mike Webster also were diagnosed with CTE.

Boston University CTE Center researchers discovered that Thomas was at stage 2 following a brain study through the Concussion Legacy Foundation. Thomas’ family released the findings of the study.

“Once I became aware of CTE and began to familiarize myself with the symptoms, I noticed that Demaryius was isolating himself and I saw other changes in him,” Katina Smith, Demaryius’ mother, said in a statement. “He was just so young, and it was horrible to see him struggle. 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 like we did.”

Stage 2 CTE is associated with “progressive behavior, cognitive and mood abnormalities.” Family members say Thomas developed depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and trouble with his memory in the years before his death. Stage 4 is the most severe stage of CTE and is usually associated with dementia.

“Like so many that have gone before, we found stage 2 CTE in the brain of Demaryius Thomas. The question I keep asking myself is ‘When will enough be enough?’ When will athletes, parents and the public at large stop ignoring the risks of American football and insist that the game be changed to reduce subconcussive hits?” said Dr. Ann McKee, chief of neuropathology for the VA Boston Healthcare System and director of the BU CTE Center and VA-BU-CLF/UNITE Brain Bank.

CLF co-founder and CEO Dr. Chris Nowinski arranged the study through Thomas’ family.

“The football community would have no idea why so many former players struggle with neurological disorders after their career without the families who say yes to brain donation, so I want to thank Bobby Thomas and Katina Smith — and all families — for their trust in Dr. McKee and this team,” said Nowinski, a former football player at Harvard. “I hope this is a wake-up call to high profile current and former NFL players that CTE is rampant among them, and they need to get involved in creating real solutions. CTE should be their number one off-the-field issue.”

Thomas is one of more than 300 former NFL players who have been diagnosed with CTE by McKee and the BU CTE Center research team.

Thomas’ cause of death has not yet been identified. In 2021, Thomas began experiencing seizures. McKee told ABC News she believes the seizures were due to severe traumatic injuries off the football field, including a car wreck and a fall on stone stairs.

“CTE itself does not cause death. You don’t die from CTE. What CTE does is it changes your behavior and your personality,” McKee said.

Thomas played 10 seasons in the NFL for the Denver Broncos, New York Jets, and Houston Texans. He won a Super Bowl with the Broncos and Peyton Manning following the 2015 season.

Thomas had 724 catches for 9,763 yards and 63 touchdowns.

Cowboys criticized over deal

The Cowboys sparked criticism on social media after announcing a marketing agreement with a gun-themed coffee company with blends that include “AK-47 Espresso,” “Silencer Smooth” and “Murdered Out.”

The partnership with the Black Rifle Coffee Co. was revealed on Twitter the day after more than a half-dozen people died in a shooting at a Fourth of July parade in suburban Chicago.

It also comes a little more than a month since the Cowboys announced their role in a $400,000 donation to support victims and survivors of the school shooting in Uvalde in South Texas, where 19 students and two teachers died.

The tweet announcing the agreement between “America’s Team” and “America’s Coffee” drew about 200 comments in the first few hours, most of them critical and suggesting the timing of the announcement was poor.

The tweet links to a contest offering two tickets to a Cowboys home game and a one-year subscription to the coffee company. Most of the company’s sales are direct to consumer.

Black Rifle was founded by U.S. Army veteran Evan Hafer, who has made support of veterans one of the tenets of his company.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’ steadfast support of the military was best illustrated when he was one of the most outspoken NFL owners against players kneeling during The Star-Spangled Banner before games to protest racial injustice and police brutality.

The Black Rifle brand has been popular among conservatives and gun-rights advocates, and the Salt Lake City-based company has ties to Texas. The first brick-and-mortar store opened in San Antonio, where the company has a second corporate office.

Seahawks not for sale

The NFL’s Seattle Seahawks and NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers are not currently for sale, the chairwoman of both franchises said.

Jody Allen’s statement came amid growing speculation about the future ownership of the teams due to stipulations in Paul Allen’s will that called for both teams to eventually be sold and the proceeds given to philanthropic endeavors. Most of the speculation has centered on the future of the Trail Blazers.

“As chair of both the Portland Trail Blazers and Seattle Seahawks, my long-term focus is building championship teams that our communities are proud of,” Jody Allen said in her statement. “Like my brother Paul, I trust and expect our leaders and coaches to build winning teams that deliver results on and off the court and field. As we’ve stated before, neither of the teams is for sale and there are no sales discussions happening.”

Allen has overseen both teams since her brother died in 2018 and is the trustee for his estate. She acknowledged the teams will eventually be put up for sale but said there is no set timeline.

Paul Allen purchased the Trail Blazers in 1988 and bought the Seahawks in 1997 to help keep the NFL franchise in his hometown. He also had a minority stake in the Seattle Sounders of MLS.