Autopsy of Ex-NFL Player Who Killed 6 Reveals “Unusually Severe” CTE Level

Phillip Adams was responsible for six deaths in South Carolina in April before turning the gun on himself

Late NFL player Phillip Adams kneels during a game between the New Orleans Saints and the San Francisco 49ers
Late NFL player Phillip Adams kneels during a game between the New Orleans Saints and the San Francisco 49ers.
Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

An autopsy of former NFL player Phillip Adams, who shot five people dead and fatally injured a sixth before turning the gun on himself in South Carolina in April, revealed he was suffering from an “unusually severe” level of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

The doctor who examined Adams, Dr. Ann McKee, said the 20 years the ex-cornerback spent playing football “definitely gave rise” to his unusual case of CTE, a degenerative brain disease associated with repeated hits to the head. CTE now is associated with a range of symptoms, including violent mood swings and memory loss.

“There were inklings that he was developing clear behavioral and cognitive issues,” McKee said, per The Associated Press. “I don’t think he snapped. It appeared to be a cumulative progressive impairment. He was getting increasingly paranoid, he was having increasing difficulties with his memory, and he was very likely having more and more impulsive behaviors. … It may not have been recognized, but I doubt that this was entirely out of the blue.”

According to McKee, the severity of Adams’s CTE in the frontal lobes of his brain was similar to that of former NFL player Aaron Hernandez and was in its second stage. Stage 2 CTE is associated with progressive cognitive and behavioral abnormalities such as aggression, impulsivity, explosivity, depression, paranoia, anxiety, poor executive function and memory loss.

“Even in the midst of crushing heartbreak, we are finding some comfort in the CTE results and the explanation they provide for the irrational behaviors pertaining to this tragedy,” the Adams family said in a statement. “After going through medical records from his football career, we do know that he was desperately seeking help from the NFL but was denied all claims due to his inability to remember things and to handle seemingly simple tasks, such as traveling hours away to see doctors and going through extensive evaluations.”

Taken in the seventh round of the 2010 NFL Draft by San Francisco out of South Carolina State University, 32-year-old Adams played parts of six seasons for the 49ers, New England Patriots, Oakland Raiders, Seattle Seahawks, New York Jets and Atlanta Falcons before retiring in 2015.

Featured more prominently with the Raiders than with other clubs after joining the team as a special teams player, Adams suffered two concussions in three weeks at one point during the 2012 season.

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