(NEW YORK) -- A team of scientists who analyzed the brain tissue of renowned NFL linebacker Junior Seau after his suicide last year have concluded the football player suffered a debilitating brain disease likely caused by two decades worth of hits to the head, researchers and his family exclusively told ABC News and ESPN.
In May, Seau, 43, shot himself in the chest at his home in Oceanside, Calif., leaving behind four children and many unanswered questions.
Seau's family donated his brain to neuroscientists at the National Institutes for Health who are conducting ongoing research on traumatic brain injury and football players.
A team of independent researchers who did not know they were studying Seau's brain all concluded he suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative disease typically caused by multiple hits to the head.
"What was found in Junior Seau's brain was cellular changes consistent with CTE," said Dr. Russell Lonser, chairman of the Department of Neurological Surgery at Ohio State University, who led the study of Seau's brain while he was at NIH.
In response to the news, the NFL released a statement on Thursday.
"We appreciate the Seau family’s cooperation with the National Institutes of Health. The finding underscores the recognized need for additional research to accelerate a fuller understanding of CTE. The NFL, both directly and in partnership with the NIH, Centers for Disease Control and other leading organizations, is committed to supporting a wide range of independent medical and scientific research that will both address CTE and promote the long-term health and safety of athletes at all levels.The NFL clubs have already committed a $30 million research grant to the NIH, and we look forward to making decisions soon with the NFL Players Association on the investment of $100 million for medical research that is committed in the Collective Bargaining Agreement. We have work to do, and we’re doing it."
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