Phillip Adams: Mass murderer or sufferer of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy?

Ex-NFL Player Phillip Adams Shoots Five, then Himself.

On April 8, 2021, another mass shooting tragedy occurred when former NFL player, Phillip Adams, killed five people, including a prominent doctor. It ended with a standoff with police, where they tried to talk Adams into surrendering. Unfortunately, Adams died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. It’s always painful to read about mass murder—especially when children are victims.

The incident has not only shaken the community of Rock Hill, South Carolina but also fans and non-football fans across North America. Up until now, the York County Sherriff’s Office’s investigation has not yet determined the motive for the shooting. Yet, it’s sad to see the reactions on social media, where people left comments calling Adams a monster. There have also been unsubstantiated claims that what Phillip Adams did amounts to a hate crime.

The fact is that football players put themselves at risk of developing long-lasting concussion-related injuries. These injuries can play a significant role in one developing mental health issues. Adams, reportedly, suffered two concussions while playing for the Raiders. However, since he became a seventh-round NFL draft pick out of South Carolina State University, he’s played for San Francisco, New England, Seattle, Oakland, the New York Jets, before finishing his career with the Atlanta Falcons. Chances are he may have suffered other head injuries during his football career which may have possibly led to him developing Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, also known as CTE.

What’s important to mention is that there was a similar devastating tragedy—where former WWF pro-wrestler, Chris Benoit, was also involved in a murder-suicide when he killed his wife and seven-year-old son. He then took his own life by hanging himself. Tests on Benoit’s brain tissue revealed that he suffered from extreme Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. There was also damage to all four lobes and his brain stem. In fact, his brain was so severely damaged that it resembled that of an eighty-five-year-old Alzheimer’s patient, even though he was only forty (1).

It is unknown whether Adams suffered from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or similar mental health issues because he would not have been eligible for testing as part of a broad settlement between the NFL and former players over such injuries. This is due to him not having retired by 2014 (2). Currently, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy can only be diagnosed after death through an autopsy (3).

To better understand why Adams may have acted out the way they did, it’s important to understand Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. This is brain degeneration likely caused by repeated head traumas, which can only be diagnosed at autopsy by studying sections of the brain. No specific conditions have been linked to it, however, some of the possible signs and symptoms can occur in many other conditions. The few proven cases have included: cognitive impairment, impulsive behavior, depression or apathy, short-term memory loss, difficulty planning and carrying out tasks, emotional instability, substance misuse, and suicidal thoughts or behavior (4).

Considering the similarities between Adams and Benoit—with regards to them sustaining blows to the head throughout their athletic careers, I would not be surprised to learn that Adams also suffered from long-lasting concussion-related injuries. Unless this type of mental illness is better understood and that professional athletes who engage in violent sports aren’t given the attention and proper preventative treatment that they need, then I fear that we may have another mass-murder-suicide in the near future.

Russell Brooks is a former Canadian Track and Field Team member specializing in the 100m, 200m, and 4x100m relay. He is also the author of four action suspense thrillers.

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