Inside the Fight for Junior Seau's Brain
How the NFL directed Seau's brain to the NIH
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 30, 2013 8:18 AM CDT
This Jan. 10, 2010, file photo shows New England Patriots linebacker Junior Seau before an NFL wild-card playoff football game in Foxborough, Mass.   (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)

(Newser) – An in-depth report from Frontline and ESPN's Outside the Lines describes the fight for Junior Seau's brain following his suicide last year—a fight that ESPN reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru, who are working on a book and documentary about brain injuries in football, call "a scientific backroom brawl." Seau's brain was the highest-profile and most sought-after yet, and the Seau family was barraged with calls—some within hours of his death—from researchers who wanted to study it. "It felt sometimes to me like buzzards were circling," says the deputy medical examiner who performed Seau's autopsy.

  • Those fighting to study Seau's brain: Bennet Omalu, the forensic pathologist who was the first to find chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in a former NFL player; Stanley Prusiner, a Nobel Prize-winning neurologist who discovered a type of protein that causes brain disease; and Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, which had identified more CTE cases than any other research team, and which was supposed to be the NFL's preferred "brain bank."
  • Those in the NFL who ultimately directed Seau's brain elsewhere: The NFL’s Head, Neck, and Spine Committee, which was essentially rebooted in 2010 after the previous committee was accused of trying to hide the link between football and brain damage; David Chao, the San Diego Chargers team doctor, who had been accused of malpractice and negligence (unrelated to Seau) and who ultimately convinced Seau's 22-year-old son to keep his dad's brain away from Omalu.
  • Where Seau's brain ended up: Ultimately, a blind study by the National Institutes of Health concluded that Seau had suffered from CTE; four months later, the NFL donated $30 million to NIH for the study of concussions.
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