McHale, who played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was a Cornell graduate, a former restaurateur, husband and the father of three boys. His widow Lisa said at the news conference that he began using powerful drugs, such as OxyContin, to control chronic pain in his shoulders and other joints.
She said the medication exacerbated his lethargy and depression, so he occasionally took cocaine to offset the effects. He went through drug rehab three times, but died of an accidental overdose of the two drugs last year.
McKee said independent experts agreed the drugs could not have caused the brain damage she observed. That damage, and the injuries to the 18-year-old, were confirmed in an independent autopsy by Dr. E. Tessa Hedley-White of Massachusetts General Hospital.
Other NFL players who exhibited similar brain injuries after their premature deaths included Pittsburgh Steelers Mike Webster, Terry Long and Justin Strzelczyk; 12-year NFL veteran Andre Waters, known as one of the game's hardest hitters; and John Grimsley, an eight-year veteran and Pro Bowl player.