Former NFL receiver Vincent Jackson diagnosed with stage 2 CTE

(Boston) – The family of Vincent Jackson is announcing today that VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank researchers diagnosed the former NFL wide receiver with stage 2 chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Jackson passed away in February 2021 at age 38. Jackson’s family is releasing the findings of his brain study to help raise awareness for CTE and its risks.  

“Vincent dedicated so much of his life to helping others. Even in his passing, I know he would want to continue that same legacy,” said Lindsey Jackson, Vincent’s widow. “By donating his brain to the VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank, we hope to continue to see advancements in CTE research, enabling physicians to diagnose the disease in the living and ultimately find treatment options in the future. There is still a lot to be understood about CTE, and education is the key to prevention. The conversation around this topic needs to be more prevalent, and our family hopes that others will feel comfortable and supported when talking about CTE moving forward.”

Lindsey Jackson supports prevention efforts like CLF’s Flag Football Under 14 program, which urges parents to wait to enroll their children in tackle football until age 14. According to a Boston University study, a football player’s odds of developing CTE may increase by as much as 30% per year played. Jackson played 23 years of tackle football, beginning at age 12. He retired in 2018 after 12 seasons in the NFL where he reached three Pro Bowls with the San Diego Chargers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

CTE is a progressive degenerative brain disease caused by repetitive head trauma. Stage 2 CTE is associated with behavioral symptoms like aggression, impulsivity, depression, anxiety, paranoia, substance abuse, and suicidal ideation, along with progressive cognitive symptoms. Stage 4 is the most severe stage and is usually associated with dementia.

“Vincent Jackson was a brilliant, disciplined, gentle giant whose life began to change in his mid-30s. He became depressed, with progressive memory loss, problem solving difficulties, paranoia, and eventually extreme social isolation,” said Dr. Ann McKee, chief of neuropathology for the VA Boston Healthcare System and director of the BU CTE Center and VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank. “That his brain showed stage 2 CTE should no longer surprise us; these results have become commonplace. What is surprising is that so many football players have died with CTE and so little is being done to make football, at all levels, safer by limiting the number of repetitive subconcussive hits. CTE will not disappear by ignoring it, we need to actively address the risk that football poses to brain health and to support the players who are struggling.”

Jackson was known for his kindness and generosity. He was the Buccaneers’ nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award four of the five years he was there. 

“We thank the Jackson family for supporting CTE research after such a terrible tragedy,” said Chris Nowinski, PhD, CLF CEO and co-founder and a former football player at Harvard. “More than 300 NFL players have been diagnosed with CTE. I hope current and former NFL players of Mr. Jackson’s generation see this as a wake-up call and get off the sideline in the fight against CTE. If a four-time Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee who never had a diagnosed concussion can lose his fight against CTE at just 38, it can happen to anyone.”

Asking for privacy, the Jackson family will have no further comment and will not be speaking with media under any circumstances.

Former and current NFL players and their families worried about possible CTE symptoms can reach out to the CLF HelpLine for support. The HelpLine staff provides personalized resources and recommendations for treatment.

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