An autopsy on the Kansas City Chiefs star shows he had degenerative brain disease when he killed his girlfriend then himself
Credit: Jamie Squire/Getty

One year after Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher murdered his 22-year-old girlfriend before turning a gun on himself at his football team’s training facility, his family believe they may have answers in the horrific, violent murder-suicide.

An autopsy of the former NFL star’s brain showed signs of a degenerative brain disease known as CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, according to a report from Dr. Piotr Kozlowski, dean of research and professor of pathology at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in New York City, obtained by ESPN’s Outside the Lines. According to experts who study CTE, the disease is progressive death of brain cells following blows to the head, leading to memory loss, depression and dementia.

Dr. Kozlowski wrote that he detected neurofibrillary tangles of tau protein, which is identified with chronic traumatic encephalopathy. The tangles were distributed throughout Belcher’s hippocampus, an area of the brain involved with memory, learning and emotion, according to Outside the Lines.

The autopsy of Belcher’s brain was conducted at the request of lawyers representing his infant daughter, Zoey, the Kansas City Star reports, stating that the “results can be used in ongoing litigation, both against the Chiefs and NFL.”

Signs of CTE, which can only be identified post-mortem, have been found in over 50 former NFL players, including Junior Seau and Dave Duerson, who both committed suicide.

Violence – both on the field and off – has plagued the NFL in recent weeks, with high-profile cases including Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, banned indefinitely from the NFL after a video went viral of him attacking his wife, Janay, in an Atlantic City casino elevator.

Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was put on the NFL’s exempt commissioner’s list after he was indicted on charges of child abuse in Texas after beating his 4-year-old son with a switch.

Arizona Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer was deactivated from all team activities after domestic abuse accusations surfaced involving a 27-year-old unnamed victim. (Dwyer, 25, has denied committing assault, police said.)

The Carolina Panthers decided that star defensive end Greg Hardy won’t play any more games for the team until his domestic violence case is resolved. Hardy was convicted of assault on a female and is appealing the ruling, according to Associated Press reports.

Belcher’s extreme case of domestic violence escalated to a violent murder-suicide. Belcher, 25, killed himself in front of team coaches at the Chiefs training facility on Dec. 1, 2012, just hours after murdering his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, in their home. His mother was caring for their 3-month-old daughter in a nearby room at the time.

The autopsy was filed shortly after Belcher’s death, but attorneys reportedly chose to make the findings public on Monday in the wake of the high-profile domestic abuse cases in the NFL, according to Associated Press reports.

“In the past month, five different NFL players implicated in horrendous episodes in domestic violence,” Dirk Vandever, an attorney who represents head-injury lawsuits against the Chiefs, told the Associated Press.

Lawsuits on behalf of Belcher’s daughter, Zoey, and his mother, Cheryl Shepherd, have been filed against the Kansas City Chiefs. Both suits allege the team failed to properly treat Javon for “repetitive head trauma,” stating the Chiefs didn’t provide adequate medical care before the murder-suicide, according to Associated Press reports.

Those suits join more than 30 other plaintiffs with similar suits against the NFL in federal court, who are currently waiting for the league to gain approval for a $765 million joint settlement.

“The NFL has a long history of changing the rules of the game to make it safer on the field, providing players the best medical care, and updating protocols on diagnosing concussions, treating concussions, and returning to play after a concussion,” the NFL said in a statement provided to the Associated Press.

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