Phillip Adams, the former NFL player who in April shot to death six people before killing himself, suffered from the debilitating brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the doctor who conducted the brain study announced Tuesday.
Ann McKee, a neuropathologist who as director of Boston University CTE Center led the examination of Adams’ brain, presented the findings during a news conference that included Sabrina Gast, the coroner of York County, South Carolina, where the killings occurred April 7.
McKee said Adams suffered from “severe” frontal lobe damage similar to what was found in Aaron Hernandez, the former NFL tight end who was convicted of murder in 2015 before killing himself in 2017.
CTE, the neurodegenerative disease linked to concussions and repetitive head trauma from football and other contact sports, has been associated with behavioral and mood changes, according to the Mayo Clinic and multiple studies.
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Of the possible link between violence and CTE, McKee said, “So we have seen this behavior. We have even see homicidal behavior in other individuals diagnosed with CTE. It’s difficult to say that it alone resulted in these behaviors because usually it’s a complicated issue with many other factors.
“But certainly we have seen this behavior and it is in fact not what I would consider unusual in this disease.”
Adams had stage 2 CTE, with stage 4 being the most severe, according to McKee.
In the Adams’ shootings, those killed included a prominent local doctor, his wife and their two young grandchildren. Two men working at the doctor’s home also were killed.
Toxicology analysis of Adams showed amphetamines, for which he had a prescription, according to the coroner. That included Kratum, a drug that can be purchased over the counter and in low doses works as a stimulant and in higher doses can have an opiate effect, according to the coroner, who said there is no FDA-approved use for the drug.
The coroner said she did not know how the drugs might have affected Adams’ behavior.
Adams, a cornerback who played college football at South Carolina State, was a seventh-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers in the 2010 NFL draft. Between 2010 and 2015, he played for six teams – the 49ers, New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks, Oakland Raiders, New York Jets and Atlanta Falcons – and was 32 at the time of the killings.
In this 2010, file photo, San Francisco 49ers cornerback Phillip Adams (35) is attended to after injuring his left leg in a game against the St. Louis Rams.
He died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound and his family members donated his brain to the Boston University CTE Center. CTE can be diagnosed only after death with brain tissue analysis.
Adams’ sister, Lauren, told USA TODAY Sports that Phillips Adams’ behavior “shifted dramatically’’ over the past couple of years.
“His mental health degraded fast and terribly bad,” Lauren Adams told USA TODAY Sports the day after the shootings. “There was unusual behavior. I’m not going to get into all that (symptoms). We definitely did notice signs of mental illness that was extremely concerning, that was not like we had ever seen. …
“He wasn’t a monster. He was struggling with his mental health.”