Raiders

Aaron Hernandez lawyer: Brain showed 'most severe case' of CTE for 27-year-old

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AP

Aaron Hernandez lawyer: Brain showed 'most severe case' of CTE for 27-year-old

BOSTON — Tests conducted on the brain of former football star Aaron Hernandez showed severe signs of the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy, and his attorney said Thursday that the player’s daughter is suing the NFL and the New England Patriots for leading Hernandez to believe the sport was safe.

In a news conference at his offices, Hernandez’s attorney Jose Baez said the testing showed one of the most severe cases ever diagnosed.

“We’re told it was the most severe case they had ever seen for someone of Aaron’s age,” Baez said.

Dr. Ann McKee, the director of the CTE Center at Boston University, concluded that the New England Patriots tight end had stage 3 of 4 of the disease, and also had early brain atrophy and large perforations in a central membrane.

The lawsuit filed in federal court in Boston on Thursday claims that the team and league deprived Avielle Hernandez of the companionship of her father. It is separate from a $1 billion settlement in which the league agreed to pay families of players who suffered brain damage because of repeated head trauma while playing football.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy declined comment, saying the league had not seen the lawsuit.

Baez said Hernandez had been playing football because the NFL led him to believe it was safe.

“Those representations turned out to be false,” Baez said.

CTE can be caused by repeated head trauma and leads to symptoms like violent mood swings, depression and other cognitive difficulties. Hernandez killed himself in April in the jail cell where he was serving a life-without-parole sentence for a 2013 murder. His death came just hours before the Patriots visited the White House to celebrate their latest Super Bowl victory.

CTE can only be diagnosed in an autopsy. A recent study found evidence of the disease in 110 of 111 former NFL players whose brains were examined.

CTE has been linked with repeated concussions and involves brain damage particularly in the frontal region that controls many functions including judgment, emotion, impulse control, social behavior and memory.

“When hindsight is 20-20, you look back and there are things you might have noticed but you didn’t know,” Baez said.

A week before his suicide, Hernandez was acquitted in the 2012 drive-by shootings of two men in Boston. Prosecutors had argued that Hernandez gunned the two men down after one accidentally spilled a drink on him in a nightclub, and then got a tattoo of a handgun and the words “God Forgives” to commemorate the crime.

Baez said he deeply regretted not raising the issue of Hernandez having CTE during his murder trials. He said they did not blame CTE for the murders because Hernandez’s defense was actual innocence.

A star for the University of Florida when it won the 2008 title, Hernandez dropped to the fourth round of the NFL draft because of trouble in college that included a failed drug test and a bar fight. His name had also come up in an investigation into a shooting.

In three seasons with the Patriots, Hernandez joined Rob Gronkowski to form one of the most potent tight end duos in NFL history. In 2011, his second season, Hernandez caught 79 passes for 910 yards and seven touchdowns to help the team reach the Super Bowl, and he was rewarded with a $40 million contract.

But the Patriots released him in 2013, shortly after he was arrested in the killing of semi-pro football player Odin Lloyd, who was dating the sister of Hernandez’s fiancee. Hernandez was convicted and sentenced to life in prison; the conviction was voided because he died before his appeals were exhausted, though that decision is itself being appealed.

As career winds down, Donald Penn is becoming impatient

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AP

As career winds down, Donald Penn is becoming impatient

ALAMEDA – Donald Penn plans to play two more years after this one. That’s it.

The Raiders left tackle plans to play out a contract extended this fall, which would complete 14 NFL seasons.

Penn wants to make the most of the time he has left. This season hasn’t been good use of an opportunity. The Raiders are on life support following Sunday’s 26-15 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Raiders entered Kansas City with a chance to control their own destiny, a shocking and possibly undeserved turn following the Chiefs' midseason collapse. They went from 2-4 to sitting atop the division with four games to play. They had a chance to erase a disappointing start, and ultimately coughed it up. They did that last year, too, and had to settle for a wild card spot.

“One of these days we’re going to stop giving it away. We we’re going to take it,” Penn said Tuesday. “Maybe I, being a veteran, need to do a better job of leading these guys and reminding them that chances are rare. I’m only playing two years after this, so my opportunities are getting shorter and shorter. I want to play in and win a Super Bowl before I’m done. My sense of urgency is at an all-time high right now.”

Salvaging this season might be tough, and players know it. They were just as frustrated as head coach Jack Del Rio was talking to the press a day before. This Chiefs loss stung. They were given a golden opportunity and squandered it. 

The Raiders need to win out and get tons of help to reach the postseason. They can’t get eliminated this week, but an eighth loss Sunday to Dallas would be a virtual death sentence.

“If we don’t beat Dallas, there won’t be a playoff scenario,” Penn said. “All I can focus on is our next game. We have to get that going and do something positive. It has been a frustrating season.”

A victory over K.C. would’ve been huge, but the Raiders never showed up in a terrible offensive effort. The Raiders had three or fewer plays on six of their first eight drives, and were shutout into the fourth quarter.

“We didn’t make plays when we had the chance. Kansas City did,” Penn said. “They made all the plays at the right time they needed to. They made the plays we didn’t make early in the game. We were still fighting. We didn’t make progress with the chances we had.

“We had opportunities but didn’t capture them. It festered all through the game. We did the same thing last year. We went to Kansas City last year with a chance to control our own destiny and gave it away.”

Del Rio 'frustrated and pissed off' after Raiders waste golden opportunity

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USATSI

Del Rio 'frustrated and pissed off' after Raiders waste golden opportunity

ALAMEDA – Head coach Jack Del Rio started his Monday press conference with a message for Raider Nation.

He didn’t wait for a question or a prompt. Del Rio just went for it, and set the tone for a new reality. Going to the playoffs is a considerable long shot after Sunday’s 26-15 loss in Kansas City. Not an impossibility, but it’s close.

Del Rio wanted everyone to know that’s unacceptable, and he isn’t happy about it.

“As players and coaches, we are as frustrated and pissed off about what occurred yesterday as anybody out there,” Del Rio said. “Losing a game like that hurts, and there are no words I can say here today that will take away that pain or make people who care about the Raiders feel better. I’m really not going to try.”

Fans should be upset when a team with offensive firepower to spare can’t score consistently. Fans should be upset when drafted players weren’t developed, and major defensive flaws weren’t addressed in the offseason.

This year’s Raiders are a woefully disappointing 6-7, nowhere near the lofty internal expectations held to start this season. It feels like a waste now, with so much talent producing so little. People will point fingers. Someone will ultimately be held accountable and several will end up unemployed, players and coaches alike.

That’s what happens when you fall short. Ownership isn’t happy. Nobody is.

Looking back, Del Rio wishes his team would’ve played with abandon, with some risk in their play. The Raiders haven’t done that much this year, tiptoeing through quality competition with lackluster results.

“I think that there have been many examples throughout this season where we have not played boldly to go make the plays,” Del Rio said. “I would really like to see that because, at the end of the day, if you kind of go half-way, it’s not good enough anyway. I’d love to see us just let it rip. And go play. We’ve talked about playing with our hair on fire, talked about that kind of effort and energy and playing fast. That’s what I believe in, and I’d love to see it more often.”

The Silver and Black played like that back in Week 7, in a game against Kansas City. It was the only time these Raiders channeled last year’s group, which got by with a little hocus pocus and quality performance under pressure. It felt like a turning point then. The past few weeks proved it was not.

The Raiders could still make the playoffs. Getting there was simple math heading into Sunday’s game. Now calculus is required.

What comes next? The Raiders have to win out and pray for rain, hoping it’s good enough to sneak into the postseason through the back door. Different is necessary to do that. They simply haven’t been good enough or consistent enough to believe that’s possible.

“We have to coach it better. We have to execute it better, as players and coaches,” Del Rio said. “Head coach and quarterback get a win-loss record off of their performance in these game. We’ve won a bunch of games over the last three years, and we’re going to continue to win a bunch of games. Yesterday was a disappointment. We can’t go back and do anything about that. I tell guys all the time that you get what you earn in this league. What we’ve earned is 6-7. What we have in front of us are three games and what we’ve got to do is play good football and win the next one and see where that takes us.”