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Turn on any high school, college or professional football game and you will see it: helmets crashing into each other and players falling to the ground, slow to get up. There isn’t always blood, but we now know that many of these players are suffering injuries that onlookers can’t always see. Concussions have become nearly synonymous with the sport, and the more scientists learn about the collisions, the more apparent it is that football as we know it needs to change for the players’ safety.
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On Wednesday, former NFL Pro Bowl quarterback and ESPN analyst Matt Hasselbeck and New York Giants two-time Super Bowl Champion Leonard Marshall announced they will both be donating their brains to help researchers to learn more about the ways football affects the brain. The former players have pledged their brains to the Concussion Legacy Foundation and specifically, the foundation will be using the brains to research concussions and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive degenerative disease that affects the brains of those who have suffered repeated blows to the head.
“CTE is no joke and I don’t want to see anyone else suffer like me and my friends,” Marshall said in a statement. “At 55, I have short-term memory loss, erratic behavior and experience fogginess. This is literally a life-and-death matter, and it’s time we start having real, honest conversations about brain trauma in professional and youth sports.”
The symptoms Marshall describes and has been outspoken about are not unique. They affect most people who suffer from CTE and other brain trauma. Other symptoms of CTE include impaired judgement, aggression and depression. For now, CTE can only be diagnosed postmortem.
Marshall continued: “In pledging my brain, I hope to advance the research that will save football players – past, present and future.”
Hasselbeck and Marshall timed the announcement with the second annual VA-hosted Brain Trust: Pathways to innoVAtion. The event takes place until Thursday at the Joseph B. Martin Center at the Harvard Medical School in Boston.
“During my football career, we didn’t have enough information on the long-term effects of concussions and brain trauma,” Hasselbeck said in a statement. “I want to be part of the solution, and by pledging my brain, I am doing my part to provide the data to protect the next generation of athletes.”