PITTSBURGH -- Former Pittsburgh Steelers lineman Terry Long
died from a brain inflammation that resulted, in part, from
repeated head injuries suffered while playing football.
Long, 45, died at UPMC Passavant Hospital on June 7, a few hours
after paramedics found him unconscious at his home. An autopsy was
inconclusive, but subsequent tests on tissues and fluids taken from
Long's body yielded the findings released Tuesday.
Long died of an inflammation of the lining of the brain, said
Joseph Dominick, chief deputy coroner in Allegheny County. A
contributing factor was "chronic traumatic encephalopathy" -- also
known as dementia pugilistica -- a condition most often seen among
"He wasn't a boxer, but that's a general term that we would use
to denote changes in the brain of a degenerative nature," coroner
Dr. Cyril Wecht said. "They can be from one intensely traumatic
injury, or they can be from repetitive and cumulative injuries,
which is what we believe happened here."
Wecht's autopsy report said Long's brain suffered "repeated
mild traumatic injury while playing football." Those repeated
injuries made Long's brain more susceptible to meningitis, which
can sometimes also be caused by an infection, but Wecht said that
wasn't the case with Long.
"We now have partial closure on Terry's tragic death and
demise," Mark Rush, his former business attorney and friend, said
of the autopsy findings. "It certainly saddened me to learn that
football, a sport Terry loved, possibly contributed to his death."
Steelers spokesman Dave Lockett declined comment on the
findings, which come two years after at least three manufacturers
introduced new helmets in the NFL and college football designed to
guard against concussions. The new helmets came in response to
published studies showing players who had one concussion were more
susceptible to others.
Wecht has done research in that area, and has jointly published
a case study of Mike Webster, a former Steelers center and Hall of
Famer who was diagnosed with football-induced dementia before he
died in September 2002 at age 50.
Webster died of heart problems, but a federal judge earlier this
year ruled the NFL should pay his estate disability benefits for
football-related head injuries.
"I'm not suggesting for one moment that we stop professional
football. If I said that, I better leave the country," Wecht said.
"I think more attention should be paid by scientists and
biomechanical engineers in coming up with a better helmet."
Long started at right guard for the Steelers from 1984-91, when
he attempted suicide with rat poison after he was suspended for
violating the NFL's steroid policy. Long later rejoined the team,
but didn't re-sign after that season.
Long had no children and was living alone after separating from
his second wife in the months before he died. He was indicted by a
federal grand jury in March on charges he fraudulently obtained
loans for a chicken-processing plant which prosecutors allege he
burned to the ground for the insurance money in September 2003.
Long was awaiting trial when he died.