The brain of late Bengals receiver Chris Henry, 26, contained so many signs of chronic disease — sludge, tangles and threads associated with late-in-life dementia or Alzheimer's — that it shows a football player can sustain life-altering head trauma without ever being diagnosed with a concussion.
The brain damage might have contributed to Henry's troubled behavior that included five arrests in a 28-month span and, ultimately, his death in December when he fell from a moving pickup.
These conclusions, among others following tissue study by scientists affiliated with West Virginia University, make Henry the first active NFL player to be discovered suffering from the progressive generative disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
Dr. Julian Bailes and Dr. Bennet Omalu, with the Brain Injury Research Institute in Morgantown, W.Va., have examined 10 other retired players. The researchers found frightful similarities between those brains and that of Henry. Those men were older than Henry and had taken thousands of blows to the helmet during long football careers.
Finding CTE in a current pro football player wouldn't surprise Dr. Robert Cantu, whose Boston University research group has received funding from the NFL.
"It also wouldn't surprise me that somebody as young as 26 would have it," Cantu said.
Henry never missed a game because of a concussion in the NFL or college. The findings show that constant thumping of the helmet and the brain, which can date to youth leagues, causes long-term harm.
"It didn't look like the brain of a 26-year-old," Omalu said. "I'm asking for full disclosure to the players. Repeated impacts of the brain are dangerous to your health and will affect you later in life. Period. I think it's an epidemic."
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