Joe DeLamielleure says he's lived the good life. The NFL Hall of Fame Offensive Lineman lives with his family in Charlotte after playing professional football, the sport he loves, for 13 years. He didn't realize anything was amiss until his children began asking if he was okay.
"I've never had a surgery, I don't drink, I've never done prescription drugs or anything like that," DeLamielleure said. He would get depressed, but have no idea why. "Something was wrong," he said.
DeLamielleure was one of a handful of players tested for Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE, and all the results came back positive. CTE is a brain disease discovered by Nigerian Forensic Pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu. He discovered the disease after studying the brain of NFL Hall of Fame Lineman Mike Webster, a friend of DeLamielleure . Signs of CTE can range from anger, depression, memory loss, and for a number of former NFL players, including Webster, suicide.
"You're injured all the time," DeLamielleure recalled of his time in the NFL. "I thought a headache was normal. I thought that was a normal part of your life from 22 to 35."
Dr. Omalu said he tried and failed to get the NFL to recognize CTE as a real disease that is affecting former players. A movie about Dr. Omalu's discovery and struggle against the NFL premieres this Christmas, starring Will Smith.
DeLamielleure said he was relieved with his recent diagnosis of CTE because now he knows there's a reason for his behavior. He was more excited that his decision to undergo countless hours of testing will help people for years to come.
The league has taken steps to expand the concussion protocol which limits the risk of players suffering the injury. The Panthers saw the new protocol implemented when Luke Kuechly sat out for a month after suffering a concussion in the Panthers season opener against the Jaguars. Since 2012, the number of reported concussions has dropped from 171 that season to 123 in 2011, a 29% decrease.
"The NFL has learned a lesson; they're taking people out of games when they have concussions," he said. "They have spotters to see if somebody is hurt. All of these are good things so something good has come from us playing and speaking out."
According to a recent Boston University study, 87 deceased former NFL players have been identified as having a brain disease. In total the BU lab has found CTE in the brain tissue in 131 out of 165 individuals who, before their death, played football on a level ranging from high school all the way to the NFL. So far this season the reported number of concussions in the nfl is 97. Four of those came from the Panthers.