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CTE rears its ugly head again with new Aaron Hernandez documentary

Aaron Hernandez
Former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez attends a court hearing Oct. 9, 2013, in Fall River, Mass. He died in 2017, at age 27.
(Brian Snyder / Associated Press)

A new Netflix documentary promises a look inside the mind of Aaron Hernandez.

Any look inside the mind of the onetime New England Patriots tight end who was convicted of murder and later killed himself will certainly delve into the topic of chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

Following his death at age 27, Hernandez was diagnosed with Stage 3 CTE by doctors at Boston University’s CTE Center, which studies repetitive head trauma in athletes and military personnel.

The center recently studied the brain of former USC defensive back Kevin Ellison following his October 2018 death. The Times’ Nathan Fenno took a deep dive into the process the team employed before determining Ellison had Stage 2 CTE.

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The brain is sectioned with a tool resembling a bread knife into coronal slices about a third of an inch thick.

“Each cut reveals a new piece of the puzzle,” Fenno wrote. “Has the frontal lobe shrunk? Are the ventricles enlarged? Alvarez places each one on a black sheet and photographs it.”

Some of the tissue is eventually placed on glass slides, which allows researchers to examine such areas as the olfactory bulb, where dark tangles of tau protein — the toxic hallmark of CTE — are often visible; the substantia nigra, which helps control muscle movement; and the superior frontal cortex, an important area for executive function and emotions.

“Each clue brings McKee closer to another answer for another grieving family,” Fenno wrote.

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Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez” premiered Wednesday.


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