An NFL executive said the league will "vigorously" contest a federal lawsuit filed by the family of former New England Patriots star Aaron Hernandez after a brain study showed he suffered from a "severe case" of the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
League spokesman Joe Lockhart said in a conference call with reporters on Friday that NFL officials believe the lawsuit "will face significant legal issues from the start." He added that "any attempt to paint Aaron Hernandez as a victim" is wrong.
"His personal story is complex, it doesn’t lend itself to simple answers,” Lockhart said. "He was convicted of a homicide and his well-documented behavioral issues began long before he played in the National Football League... The real victims are the friends and family of those he killed, along with his young daughter."
The Patriots organization has not commented publicly on the lawsuit, but coach Bill Belichick was asked by reporters Friday about what steps the team takes to inform players about the dangers of CTE.
"The whole medical questions are ones that come outside of my area, so our medical department and medical staff, we cover a lot of things on the medical end. Not just one specific thing. We cover a lot," he said.
Belichick was also asked about how the NFL handles informing players of the dangers of CTE.
"I'm not a doctor. I'm not a trainer. I'm a coach, so the medical department -they handle the medical part of it. I don't do that," he responded.
The lawsuit was filed Thursday against the NFL and the Patriots on behalf of Hernandez's 4-year-old daughter after Boston University officials found that he had Stage 3 out of 4 CTE, usually found in a 67-year-old man. The study showed that he also had early brain atrophy and perforations in a central membrane.
The director of the CTE Center at the university said the disease can cause violent mood swings and depression.
Lawyers claim both the NFL and the Patriots failed to protect players’ safety and deprived Avielle Hernandez of the companionship of her father.
Hernandez was convicted of the 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd and was acquitted of a separate double murder. He committed suicide in prison earlier this year.
Soon after his prison suicide in April, Hernandez's family decided they wanted his brain to be studied by the Boston University Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center.
NBC Boston legal analyst Michael Coyne said the study may provide some clues on Hernandez’s violent behavior.
"Despite these findings... it still doesn't mean he is innocent of what he has been accused of," Coyne said. "It simply means there may have been reasons why he did some of the horrible things he is accused of doing."
SUICIDE PREVENTION HELP: The National Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-8255) is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.