KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Former Kansas City Chiefs running back Thomas Jones said he is convinced that former Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher, who shot and killed his girlfriend Kasandra Perkins before committing suicide, already was suffering from the effects of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
CTE, a degenerative disease of the brain that has been linked to aggressive behavior and depression, has been found posthumously in numerous NFL players, including several who have committed suicide. Former San Diego Chargers linebacker Junior Seau, who took his life last May, later was diagnosed with CTE.
Jones and Belcher were teammates with the Chiefs in 2010 and 2011.
“I have no doubt in my mind that Jovan had CTE,” Jones told FOXSportsKansasCity.com. “I’m sure (CTE) played a part in what happened.
“I knew Jovan. He was a good guy. But he did a horrible thing that day.”
Autopsy reports revealed that Belcher was legally drunk (0.17 blood-alcohol content) the Dec. 1 morning when he killed Perkins before driving to the Chiefs’ practice facility, where he shot himself in the head in the parking lot.
But the Jackson County Medical Examiner’s office, which performed the autopsy, did not send any of Belcher’s brain tissue to specialists to be examined for CTE, per the family’s wishes, according to Jackson County public information officer Dan Ferguson.
“In that situation, an autopsy is performed to determine cause of death,” Ferguson told FOXSportsKansasCity.com. “Anything at all dealing with organ or tissue donor is strictly up to the family. But no brain tissue was sent anywhere for examination.”
Although the manner of Belcher’s suicide — a gunshot wound to the head — makes it difficult for CTE examination, experts in the field have indicated successful examinations in those instances have occurred in the past.
It is unclear why Belcher’s family did not opt for CTE examination, considering the increased media attention the disease has received recently. A call to the attorney of Belcher’s mother, Cheryl Shepherd, was not returned Wednesday.
Jones said the nature of Belcher’s play on the field almost guarantees that he had the early stages of CTE.
“You’re talking about a guy who met fullbacks head on from his linebacker position,” Jones said. “He met running backs head on. He met massive guards and centers head on.
“Jovan was what we call a ‘hammer head.’ He played aggressively and took on blockers and ball carriers head on. I looked at his helmet one day, and it looked like someone had tossed it down 100 flights of concrete stairs. I’d never seen anything like it. That’s how beat up it was.”
Jones said while there is a proven connection between diagnosed concussions and CTE, repeated head trauma not necessarily diagnosed as concussions also can result in CTE.
“Personally, I don’t know how many concussions I actually had,” Jones said. “I know there were a lot of ‘baby concussions.’ I never really got knocked out, but that doesn’t mean you didn’t have a lot of head trauma over the years. When you think about it, you’re doing this game from the time you’re in Pee Wee football through high school through college and then the pros.
“That’s a lot of head injuries and a lot of head trauma.”
Jones said it’s the accumulative effect that likely damages the brain.
“It’s like taking a fresh, ripe apple,” he said, “and then you start tapping on it over and over and over. Well, eventually the inside of the apple goes brown and starts dying. That’s what football does to our brains.”
Jones said he is not calling for anyone to shut down the game.
“I don’t have any magic answers,” he said. “I just know we need to bring more awareness to the situation and let people know how serious is.
“The truth is, we all did this because we loved the game. We chose to do this. I’m not asking for sympathy. We’re just looking for solutions.”
Jones, 34, played in the NFL for 12 seasons, including time with the Arizona Cardinals, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Chicago Bears, New York Jets and the Chiefs. He knows that he, too, could have CTE.
Researchers have suggested that individuals with CTE show symptoms of dementia in the form of memory loss, aggression, confusion or depression. Belcher was known to have suffered from depression.
“Personally, I don’t know if I have any symptoms,” Jones said. “You worry, though. Every time you forget something or you act kind of strange, you start to wonder. You think, ‘Is this the start of it?’ “
Recently, a pilot study at UCLA revealed that brain scans on five living, former NFL players indicated the signs of proteins linked to CTE — the first time researchers have been able to identify the markers for CTE among living players. The study was a significant step toward proper diagnosis among living players.
Jones, however, said he doesn’t want to be tested right now.
“I really don’t want to know if I have it,” he said. “There’s no cure for it, so I guess I’d rather not know right now. I know that maybe some early treatment for it will help, but it’s just a scary thought to even know if it’s there.”
Jones, however, has indicated he will commit his brain, upon death, to research at the Sports Legacy Institute for further study about CTE.
Jones also tackled the subject of CTE while making a documentary series called “The NFL: The Gift or the Curse?”
The six-part series includes interviews of several present and former players and is produced by Jones’ company — Independently Major Entertainment Films. Jones is in the process of pitching the series to major networks, including FOX, ESPN and NBC.
The first part of the series is devoted to concussions and suicide.
“The series deals with the entire lifestyle of the NFL player,” Jones said. “It’s all the things people don’t know about the NFL player — the injuries, the finances, the pressure not only to win but to support their families — all of that.”