Former NFL Hall of Famer and sportscaster Frank Gifford had signs of the progressive degenerative disease Chronic Traumatic Encephalopahty (CTE), according to a statement from his family today.
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Gifford, 84, died on Aug. 9 at his Connecticut home. His family emphasized in the statement that CTE did not lead to his death, but that he had "cognitive and behavioral symptoms" before he died.
The family said that it “made the difficult decision to have his brain studied in hopes of contributing to the advancement of medical research concerning the link between football and traumatic brain injury.”
Multiple NFL players have been diagnosed with CTE after their deaths in recent years and the league continues to face criticism that it has not done enough to protect players. Gifford, who was married to "Today" show host Kathie Lee Gifford, played for the New York Giants during his entire 12-year career, from 1952 to 1964.
“We decided to disclose our loved one’s condition to honor Frank’s legacy of promoting player safety dating back to his involvement in the formation of the NFL Players Association in the 1950s,” the family said in the statement. “His entire adult life Frank was a champion for others, but especially for those without the means or platform to have their voices heard.”
The degenerative disease involves a buildup of the abnormal protein called tao, which is also found in Alzheimer's patients and is associated with a breakdown of brain tissue. It's believed to be caused by repetitive trauma to the brain, according to the CTE Center at Boston University, and symptoms include memory loss, confusion, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, anxiety and progressive dementia. The disease can only be diagnosed after death when tissue samples can be examined for the tao protein.
Gifford's family said they would continue to support the NFL and new rules aimed at making the game safer.
"We miss him every day, now more than ever, but find comfort in knowing that by disclosing his condition we might contribute positively to the ongoing conversation that needs to be had," the family said.