Researchers have found that the brain of the late Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler had the brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.
Dr. Ann McKee, chief of neuropathology at the V.A. Boston Healthcare System, told the New York Times that Stabler had high Stage 3 CTE, which is consistent with a player who spent many years playing football and then lived for decades after retiring. Stabler died of colon cancer at age 69.
“The very severity of the disease, at least that we’re seeing in American football players, seems to correlate with the duration of play,” McKee said. “The longer they play, the more severe we see it. But it’s also the years since retirement, to the age of death — not only the longer you play, but the longer you live after you stop playing.”
Stabler long joked about how hard he was on his own body, both in the way he played the game — unafraid to take big hits — and in his hard-drinking, hard-living off the field style. Those jokes may come to seem less funny as we learn more about the way Stabler’s physical and mental health deteriorated in is final years.
A finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Stabler’s enshrinement will be voted upon on Saturday.