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‘What are we going to do to stop it?’

For eight months, Ann Craft said, she has wondered why.

Why did former NFL player Phillip Adams shoot to death six people, including her granddaughter’s husband, and kill himself with a self-inflicted gunshot wound?

On Tuesday, Craft watched parts of a press conference held in York County, South Carolina, where the shootings took place April 7, and heard something new.

Ann McKee, the doctor who conducted an examination of Phillips’ brain, said there was evidence of the debilitating brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and severe damage to the frontal lobes that has been linked to violent behavior.

“I think the NFL, if this is happening to a lot of the players, I think they ought to accept some of the responsibility,” Craft told USA TODAY Sports.

Holding the NFL responsible for Adams’ actions may be a big leap, but the news has again raised questions about the impact of brain trauma in football at all levels – not just on the players, but on their family and community.

Phillip Adams Jr., the young son of the former NFL player, is now fatherless.

The patients of Robert Lesslie, a longtime physician who along with his wife Barbara and their two young grandchildren Ada and Noah died in the shootings – lost a trusted and revered doctor.

In this 2010, file photo, San Francisco 49ers cornerback Phillip Adams (35) is attended to after injuring his left leg in a game against the St. Louis Rams.

In this 2010, file photo, San Francisco 49ers cornerback Phillip Adams (35) is attended to after injuring his left leg in a game against the St. Louis Rams.

And Craft said she has watched her granddaughter Holly Shook and Shook’s three children struggle after their father was killed. Robert Shook and James Lewis were working at the Lesslies’ home in Rock Hill, South Carolina, when they were shot.

“Holly and the children have really been devastated by this, as we all have,’’ Craft said.

Barry Dagenhart, the pastor First ARP Church in Rock Hill where the Lesslies regularly attended services, said he hopes the tragedy will lead to more reforms in football.

“If a sport’s going to cause this kind of damage, well, what are we going to do to stop it or mitigate it more than what we’ve done?’’ he said. “It’s one thing the first time you hear about it. But there’s been Aaron Hernandez and some other” players who committed acts of violence.

“I would think that the (NFL) owners themselves would be concerned about this kind of thing happening to their players.”

The NFL, which did not respond to requests for comment, has faced CTE-related tragedy before but never circumstances like this.

CTE can be diagnosed only after death, and brain studies showed Junior Seau, the Hall of Fame linebacker, and at least 12 former NFL players suffered from CTE when they killed themselves, according to researchers.

The violence has not been only self-inflicted.

In 2012, Jovan Belcher was a 25-year-old linebacker with the Kansas City Chiefs when he shot to death his girlfriend and killed himself with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. A neuropathologist found evidence of CTE in Belcher.

Aaron Hernandez, who played tight end for the New England Patriots from 2010 to 2012, was found guilty in 2015 of murdering Odin Lloyd, who was dating the sister of Hernandez’s fiancée. In 2017, Hernandez died by suicide while in his prison cell.

A brain study later showed evidence of CTE, according to McKee, who is director at the Boston University CTE Center.

Unlike the previous cases of violence, Adams, who was 32, had no known relationship to the victims, according to York County Sheriff Kevin Tolson.

Phillips Adams with his son, Phillips Adams Jr.

Phillips Adams with his son, Phillips Adams Jr.

“Of course it changes the conversation when there’s a mass murder with someone who had CTE,’’ said Chris Nowinksi, co-founder of the Boston University CTE Center, where the brains of more than 315 NFL players have been studied, according to McKee. “I guess what’s objectively different about this case is the victims were essentially strangers and included children.

“It’s hard for anyone to process why. But it’s important that we try to understand why because we should do everything in our power to make sure it doesn’t happen again.’’

In the wake of the tragedy, Nowinski said, the NFL could invest more money in the research of CTE.

“The NFL has done some things to advance research, but it’s not nearly enough,” Nowinski said. “And this is probably the appropriate time to say the NFL’s most recent funding has been focused on (the safety of) helmets and concussions and not CTE.

“Even in the global conversation on this, we’re talking about CTE as a cause of dementia and we’re talking about keeping your brain healthy in your 40s and 50s. We’re missing this other issue, which is that CTE is probably causing severe psychiatric problems, symptoms in young people.’’

Adams played for six NFL teams between 2010 and 2015 and ended his career in 2016, before the NFL had fully implemented changes to designed to reduce head injuries, said Julian Bailes, a member of the NFL Players Association health and safety committee and the NFL head, neck and spine committee.

Significant efforts to reduce head injuries in youth football and college football also have been made only in recent years. Adams played football for a total of 20 years, according to his family.

“That’s a lot of exposure,’’ Bailes said.

Bailes said NFL reforms have included reducing unnecessary contact in practice, reducing head-to-head hits and developing better medical diagnosis and management.

“I believe that the league has done a lot and the game is safer and more controlled in this manner than it’s ever been,’’ said Bailes, chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery at the NorthShore University HealthSystem in Illinois. “I’m not sure there’s a whole lot more to be done.’’

But Bailes said added funding could help develop something “vitally important” for the treatment of CTE: the ability to diagnose it in people while they’re living.

“If you can only tell someone they have a disease when they’re dead, you can’t really help them out,’’ he said. “So the quest to find a living diagnoses is vitally important. And there have bene several attempts to do that.

“I believe, in general, supporting that research and that discovery is a huge next step. I think that work needs to be ongoing, whether they (the NFL) do it or someone else does it.’’

Craft, whose granddaughter Holly Shook became a widow as a result of the Adams’ killings, said he thinks the shootings stemmed from more than brain trauma. But she also she has found some comfort in learning that Phillips suffered from CTE at the time of the killings.

“Because the way Holly and the children feel,’’ Craft said, “I know they were hoping for a reason for (Phillips) to do this other than just hatred for people.’’

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ex-NFL player Phillip Adams’ suicide, killings renews talk on CTE

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