Two years after his death, another football great has joined the list of former NFL players to show signs of severe chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) when he died. According to a report from ESPN’s “Outside the Lines,” former Detroit Lions running back Mel Farr had Stage 3 CTE at the time of his death in 2015. He was 70.
The news comes after Farr’s family donated his brain to Boston University’s CTE Center to help aid research on the devastating brain disease linked to repeated brain trauma. Currently, the only way for CTE to be diagnosed is through post-mortem autopsy, but it is associated with severe symptoms such as memory loss, impulse control issues, depression, aggression, and impaired judgement during life.
“Mr. Farr had Stage 3 CTE, which is consistent with other football players of similar age and exposure,” said Dr. Ann McKee, the director of BU’s CTE Center. “At Stage 3, the disease is widespread, but most severe in the frontal lobes as well as the medial temporal lobes, specifically the hippocampus, which plays a critical role in forming new memories, and the amygdala, which governs emotion.
“Mr. Farr had symptoms consistent with other Stage 3 cases, including memory problems, significant personality change, and behavioral symptoms,” added Dr. McKee, who is also a professor of neurology and pathology at the Boston University School of Medicine and the Chief of Neuropathology for the VA Boston Healthcare System. “His family noted that Mr. Farr was aware of, and frustrated by, his decline.”
Farr’s daughter, Monet Bartell, confirmed that he showed signs of the degenerative brain disease, as well:
“My dad for some time had been suffering. He was losing his memory. Things he should remember, he couldn’t remember.”
Farr also suspected he had CTE leading up to his death. As ESPN notes, Farr, along with his brother Miller Farr, cousin Jerry Levias, and two sons, Mel Farr Jr. and Mike Farr – all former NFL players – had joined the currently pending class-action lawsuit against the league claiming the NFL purposely hid information about concussion risks from players.
“We were never told the lifelong effects of the multiple jarring hits in the NFL,” Mike Farr said.
Farr had a long career in football, going from first-round draft pick and NFL rookie of the year in 1967 to a two-time Pro Bowl player in just four year. Including high-school and college, he played football for 18 years.
“What we called it back then was ‘getting your bell rung’. What they may call it now may be a mild concussion,” Mel Farr Jr. said. “If you took a hard hit, you got up, you were a little woozy, ‘Oh, he just got his bell rung’ — you were able to go back to the huddle.”
Despite believing Farr had developed CTE, they say they were surprised to discover how severe it was. Stage 3 is characterized by aggressive behavior and more cognitive impairment than described by his family. Stage 4 typically includes a clinical diagnosis of dementia.
After his retirement, Mel Farr also became a regional “Superstar” with his 11 car dealerships. In 1998, his automotive group was believed to be the largest African-American owned company in the United States.
“He was an amazing man with a larger-than-life personality,” said his wife, Jasmine Farr, whom he married in 2013. “He was a great athlete, a great businessman, a great family man and a great person. One of a kind. He would light up a room with his presence.”