(Boston) – Charles “Bubba” Smith, two-time Pro Bowl defensive end, College Football Hall of Famer, and the first overall pick of the 1967 National Football League (NFL) draft, who went on to become an actor best known for his role in the Police Academy films, was diagnosed with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) after his death by researchers affiliated with the VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank, a collaboration between the Department of Veterans Affairs, Boston University, and the Concussion Legacy Foundation.
Smith began his NFL career with the Baltimore Colts (1967–1971), where he was a member of the Super Bowl V championship team, then played for the Oakland Raiders (1973–1974), and finally the Houston Oilers (1975–1976). He was an All-American defensive end at Michigan State University and was part of the famous 10-10 tie with Notre Dame in 1966 that was billed the “Game of the Century.” He went on to a career in acting, including his best-known role as Moses Hightower in the Police Academy movies, and he was also remembered fondly for his Miller Lite commercials.
Smith, who died in 2011 at age 66, is among the 90 of 94 former NFL players diagnosed with CTE since 2008 at the VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank. He had stage 3 CTE out of a 4 stage severity, with 4 being the most advanced and usually associated with dementia. Prior to his death, Smith was reported to have developed significant cognitive decline, including memory impairment and poor judgment. He was also unable to complete many tasks of daily living on his own, such as paying bills, shopping, or traveling. The findings are now being released by the representative of his estate Elias Goldstein to raise awareness of CTE. Smith had no children, no surviving siblings, and was not married at the time of his death.
Last month was the 50th iteration of the modern NFL draft. Bubba Smith was the first overall pick in 1967 draft, the first draft to take place after the NFL and American Football League (AFL) merger.
“CTE is an important discussion within the context of the NFL draft and rookie minicamps,” said Chris Nowinski, co-founder and president of the Concussion Legacy Foundation. “Despite its perception as an NFL problem, our team has also identified 45 cases of CTE in former college players. While we discuss and celebrate the future of former college players preparing for their first year in the NFL, we need to also discuss that CTE may be part of that future. It is time for entire football community to rally behind the research aimed at accelerating a cure for CTE.”
Smith was a teammate of Hall of Famers Ken Stabler, who it was announced in February had CTE when he died in 2015, and John Mackey, who was diagnosed with CTE after his death in 2011. Since then, Former Oakland Raiders George Atkinson, Phil Villapiano, George Buehler and Art Thoms, all former teammates of both Stabler and Smith, have pledged their brains to the Concussion Legacy Foundation as part of My Legacy, which encourages athletes to leave their legacy by helping solve the concussion crisis through brain donation or other means.
Last month VA Secretary Robert McDonald pledged to donate his brain to the Concussion Legacy Foundation, joining NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt Jr. and soccer legend Brandi Chastain among over 1,100 others. The VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank is the largest sports concussion and CTE repository in the world with over 330 brains donated and over 200 cases confirmed, comprising an estimated 75% of the confirmed CTE cases globally.
In December the National Institutes of Health (NIH) gave a seven-year, $16 million dollar grant aimed at learning to diagnose CTE in living athletes to a consortium of 10 leading universities led by principal investigator Dr. Robert Stern, professor of neurology, neurosurgery and anatomy at Boston University School of Medicine, and three co-principal investigators from the Cleveland Clinic, Banner Alzheimer’s Institute, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
For more information on donating to the VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank or to get involved, visit: concussionfoundation.org/get-involved