Bubba Smith, a College Football Hall of Famer and All-Pro defensive end who went on to become an actor, was diagnosed with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE, by the Concussion Legacy Foundation. The announcement was made Tuesday.
The diagnosis was made after Smith’s death in 2011 by researchers for the VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank, a collaborative effort involving the Department of Veterans Affairs, Boston University and the Concussion Legacy Foundation.
Smith is the 90th former NFL player since 2008 to be diagnosed with the brain disease by the foundation and the Boston University brain bank, where scientists have studied the brains of 94 deceased players. Others include Giants Hall of Famer Frank Gifford, Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau and quarterback Ken Stabler, who was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in February.
Many former players have declared a desire to donate their brains to research after their deaths, including Jets Hall of Famer Joe Namath.
“CTE is an important discussion within the context of the NFL draft and rookie minicamps,” Chris Nowinski, co-founder and president of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, said in a statement. “Despite its perception as an NFL problem, our team has also identified 45 cases of CTE in former college players. While we discuss and celebrate the future of former college players preparing for their first year in the NFL, we need to also discuss that CTE may be part of that future. It is time for [the] entire football community to rally behind the research aimed at accelerating a cure for CTE.”
Researchers use a scale of 1 to 4 to describe the severity of CTE, and the foundation said Smith had Stage 3 when he died at 66 from an overdose of phentermine, a weight-loss drug. According to the Concussion Legacy Foundation, Smith reportedly had significant cognitive decline, including memory impairment and poor judgment, prior to his death.
The 6-7, 265-pound Smith starred at Michigan State and was the Baltimore Colts’ first overall draft pick in 1967. He played in their Super Bowl III loss to the Jets and for the Colts’ Super Bowl V champions. After nine NFL seasons he turned to acting and appeared in a series of Miller Lite commercials. His most recognizable role came as Moses Hightower in the “Police Academy” movies.