UPDATED 05/02/11 1:54 p.m.
BOSTON (CBS) -- An autopsy confirmed Monday that former Chicago Bear Dave Duerson had brain damage when he committed suicide in February.
The Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at the Boston University School of Medicine announced on Monday its findings on its examination of Duerson's brain. The safety who began his NFL career with the Chicago Bears was 50 when he shot himself in the chest.
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Dr. Robert Cantu, co-director of the CTSE, said at a news conference that such results normally are published first, but the Duerson family wanted them released earlier.
"It is our hope that through this research questions that go beyond our interests may be answered," The Duerson family said in a statement. "Questions that lead to a safer game of football, from professional to Pop Warner; Questions that lead to better diagnostic tests for those alive; and Questions that lead to a cure; will all hopefully be answered."
Duerson was drafted by the Bears in the third round out of Notre Dame in 1983. He played seven years with Chicago, one with the New York Giants and three with the Phoenix Cardinals.
He shot himself in the chest and died at his home in Sunny Isles Beach, Fla. His family had believed since before his death that he suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease, and he has donated his brain to B.U. for research.
The New York Times reports Monday morning that if the autopsy shows Duerson did suffer from the disease, it could shape future debate in the NFL about handling concussions.
While about two dozen retired NFL players have been found to suffer from CTE, Duerson is the only one to commit suicide, the New York Times reports.
"We hope these findings will contribute more to the understanding of CTE," the NFL said in a statement. "Our Head, Neck and Spine Medical Committee will study today's findings, and as a league we will continue to support the work of the scientists at the Boston University Center and elsewhere to address this issue in a forthright and effective way."
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