By William Weinbaum and Steve Delsohn | ESPN.com
Former Miami Dolphins All-Pro wide receiver Mark Duper is the ninth living former NFL player to be diagnosed with signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a degenerative brain disease many scientists say is caused by head trauma and linked to depression and dementia. Duper told “Outside the Lines” he learned of his diagnosis Friday from researchers involved with the testing.
The conclusions regarding the former players, according to the researchers, are based on a brain scan that uses a radioactive marker to detect accumulations of abnormal tau, a protein that damages brain cells in areas that control memory, emotions and other functions. The researchers say the diagnoses also are based on symptoms reported by the former players and on clinical evaluations.
“It was shocking,” Duper told OTL about his reaction to hearing that he had signs of CTE. “I hoped nothing was wrong.
“I’ve had memory things where I would go to the store and forget what I went for. And I have emotional swings and panic attacks.”
Duper is one of four former stars — the others are Hall of Famers Tony Dorsett and Joe DeLamielleure, and All-Pro Leonard Marshall — who were tested over the past three months at UCLA and diagnosed with signs of CTE. UCLA announced in January that five other ex-players had been tested and received that diagnosis.
Prior to the findings in the nine living ex-players, CTE had been diagnosed only posthumously. Autopsies on more than 50 former NFL players — including on perennial All-Pro Junior Seau, who committed suicide last year, and Hall of Famer Mike Webster — found concentrations of tau indicative of CTE.
“Outside the Lines” reported Wednesday that Dorsett, DeLamielleure and Marshall all described experiencing memory loss, depression and suicidal thoughts.
“Once upon a time, everybody has thought about suicide, but I am not going to do it,” Duper said.
Doctors on the research team that administered the tests to the nine retired players say the CTE density and patterns they found correlate with CTE findings in autopsies. They say the use of the brain scan is in preliminary stages, given the small sample size, but that they are confident it will lead to previously impossible monitoring of the disease’s progress and to advancements in treatment.
The 54-year-old Duper said, “I think this test will show the damage we are doing to our bodies and how to prevent it. People have to speak up about CTE. I hope me speaking out will show that people should be tested.”
Duper played all 11 of his NFL seasons for Miami, had four 1,000-yard seasons and was half of the potent “Marks Brothers” receiving tandem with Mark Clayton. He was inducted 10 years ago next month, along with Clayton, into the Dolphins’ Honor Roll.
There is no known cure for CTE, but Duper said, “It’s not a death diagnosis. Now I know; the next step is to see what can be done. I’m not sure.”