GREENWICH, Conn., Nov. 25 (UPI) -- Sportscaster and former NFL Hall of Famer Frank Gifford showed signs of the brain disease Chronic Traumatic Encephalopahty, or CTE before his death, his family said Wednesday.
Gifford died of natural causes in August at age 84, but Gifford's family said that before his death, he had exhibited the "cognitive and behavioral symptoms" of CTE.
The family said in a statement it "made the difficult decision to have his brain studied in hopes of contributing to the advancement of medical research concerning the link between football and traumatic brain injury."
Gifford's family said "Our suspicions that he was suffering from the debilitating effects of head trauma were confirmed when a team of pathologists recently diagnosed his condition." Announcing the diagnosis, the family said, honored Gifford's devotion to promoting player safety.
CTE is a degenerative disease that is typically caused by multiple concussions or repetitive head trauma. Over time, a buildup of an abnormal protein called tao (found in Alzheimer's patients as well) plays a role in deteriorating brain tissue. Confusion, aggression, anxiety, depression, impulse control problems, memory loss and progressive dementia are common symptoms.
But the disease can only be diagnosed from brain tissue samples after death.
Many former NFL players, most notably Junior Seau, were diagnosed with CTE after their deaths. A recent study found 87 of 91 former players who donated their brains to science tested positive for CTE.
The NFL and thousands of former players settled a lawsuit in April that will provide up to $5 million for every former player being treated for CTE-related illness.
Gifford's fame could help raise awareness about the disease in tandem with the new Will Smith movie, "Concussion," due in theaters on Christmas Day.
Gifford was one of the players who helped form the NFL Players Assn. in 1956. He was also married to talk show host Kathie Lee Gifford.